By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
In February, former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, to fill the seat left vacant by Senator Jeff Sessions when he assumed the role of US Attorney General. Bentley also set the date of the Special Election to allow the people to vote on Sessions’ replacement some two years later, during the 2018 General Election. Bentley, calling for a Special Election two years hence, has received harsh criticism because it violates the will and intent of the State’s 1901 Constitution, according to Constitutional experts who have weighed in on the case.
As the days pass, the timetable to reverse Bentley’s flawed order remains short, but doable, according to records supplied to The Alabama Political Reporter by the Secretary of State’s Office.
By using computer modeling, Secretary John Merrill’s office has systematically calculated a series of dates that comply with State and Federal regulations for the Special Election. Under Merrill’s Draft Administrative Calendar Special US Senate Special Election: Alliterative Calendar 1, the earliest an election could be held is December 12, 2017.
To reach the December 12 date, Governor Kay Ivey would need to issue a proclamation calling for a Special Election on April 18, 2017. Move that date a day, a week, or a month and the election day moves forward as well.
The Secretary’s office has calculated the multitude of regulations, both State and Federal, and the holidays and actions that must take place within a 119-day window, allotted from the time of the proclamation until election day.
Alternative Calendar 2 charts the dates of the procedures that would be required if Gov. Ivey waited just six more days to issue the proclamation. If it were signed by April 25, 2017, the election would be held on December 18, 2017.
Under Alternative Calendar 3: If the election proclamation were issued on May 2, 2017, the election could take place on the day after Christmas, December 26, 2017. Move it one more week, and it would greet the New Year, 2018.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, May 2 is the last day a proclamation can be made without bumping up closely to the 2018 General Election.
As Gov. Ivey said at her first meeting with the press, “time is a concern.” The Governor also cited the cost of an election as an issue that she had to consider.
Estimates from the Alabama Department of Finance for holding a US Senate Special Election range from $10 to $16 million. According to that office, General Fund dollars are allocated into a fund each year to pay for elections. Currently, the office has approximately $6.6 million on hand. There is an estimated $500,000 believed to be in the Secretary of State’s election fund. This amount combined could be more than half of the money needed to a third of the funds needed, depending on runoffs and other factors.
Gov. Ivey’s nascent administration has scant time to make a decision to rectify this situation: “There’s a limited time available to make a reasonable decision on that [Special Election]. If we move the date, it will cost about $15 million that will come straight out of the General Fund Budget. So, while I have some concerns about the whole situation, I have to also be very mindful of the impact it will have.”
This set of circumstances is not a conundrum without a solution. The courts may very well decide the election must go forward, but time may run out before a ruling is made. There is also a chance that Secretary Merrill will ask for an opinion from Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office, which would make the legal proceedings moot. Or, Gov. Ivey may decide that Bentley’s call was in error (like so many of his administrative actions) and move the election to align with the will and intent of the State’s 1901 Constitution.