The Alabama Democratic Party has the authority, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, to remove nominee Sebrina Martin from the ballot and replace her with another candidate for Montgomery County family court judgeship — a move the party might consider in light of court documents showing that Martin lost custody of her children in 2013 over abuse allegations.
APR published Indiana court documents last week showing that a judge in that state found Martin’s use of corporal punishment to be excessive and subsequently awarded custody of her six children to their father. Beyond the scope of the document, Martin’s former children recounted her throwing their special needs sister in ice cold showers as a routine form of punishment. She was around 5 years old at the time. They also discussed being underfed and constantly in fear of what might set off Martin, or the other two adults in the house.
Martin is set to become a family court judge in Montgomery’s 15th circuit. She beat Fernando Morgan in the Democratic primary and there is no Republican challenger in November’s general election. But there is a mechanism for removing Martin from the ballot.
According to Merrill and the bylaws of the Alabama Democratic Party, the party could simply disqualify Martin. Merrill told APR that the parties submit their certified nominees to the Secretary of State’s office on July 6, but can still substitute nominees until late August before the ballots are printed.
Although it has been standard for the parties to hold primaries to select their nominees for the past four decades, Merrill said the parties are not required by the state to honor the primary results.
The only obstacle is whether any party bylaws would prohibit the Democratic Party from choosing an alternate nominee.
Chris England, chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, declined to comment on the matter at this time. However, Article 9 of the bylaws address the situation:
“… if the conduct of any candidate, either before or subsequent to the primary, shall be incompatible with such declaration, then the chair of the State Committee is authorized and directed to order that said candidate show cause before (to a subcommittee overseeing the primary elections) why said candidate should not be disqualified or his nomination or election be withdrawn, as the case may be…”
After hearing this argument, the subcommittee is authorized to withdraw the nomination. The bylaws state that the party may then fill the vacancy “as provided for in these rules” but it was not immediately clear what that process would be. The bylaws state that “When a nomination has been made and becomes vacant before the election, the vacancy may be filled by use of any of the above stated plans for special elections that may be applicable or adaptable to use, in the judgment of the Chair, who shall advise or direct action as occasions may suggest or require.”
Those “above stated plans” state that the committee can simply select a nominee or hold a primary. It would appear that this situation would call for a direct nomination from the party. Fernando Morgan, who fell to Martin by almost 4,000 votes in the primary (25 percent), is the only other candidate that qualified with the party for the position.
“I would hope I’m next in line,” Morgan told APR Friday. “(The party) has met (me), approved (me). I’m the endorsed candidate; I would be a natural shoe-in.”
Morgan is referring to the endorsement of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the Black caucus of the Alabama Democratic Party.
Morgan said nominating him would “cut down the work” the party would have to do if they declare the nomination vacant, as he has already been through the screening process and submitted the qualifying documents. “After this, they’re probably going to vet everyone with a lot more grit.”
What if the party doesn’t withdraw the nomination?
Although Martin’s situation seems to qualify for the removal process, it is not guaranteed that the Democratic Party will follow through. No party leader has signaled imminent action to begin the process.
With that in mind, many readers have questioned what else could be done to prevent Martin from ascending to family court judge.
Although Martin has no Republican challengers for the General Election, it is still possible for a write-in candidate to defeat Martin. The deadline has already passed for an independent candidate to gain access to the ballot.
Merrill said there are no restrictions or regulations of write-in candidates in the General Election.
A successful write-in campaign would have a few hurdles to overcome.
First and foremost, the write-in campaign would have to emphasize one particular candidate to have a chance at gaining enough votes to come out on top. Simply encouraging voters to write in any candidate will not be enough.
Some have already called for a write-in campaign for Morgan, and Morgan said he was contacted by a few supporters who also signaled support. Morgan told supporters in a Facebook post Saturday that he is still seeking to be the next family court judge.
“There is a lot going on with regard to the recent election,” Morgan said. “The race is far from over. Please know that I am still working hard to become the next family court Judge for Montgomery County. Thank you to all my supporters who continue to work diligently in this battle — and it is just that, a battle for the families of Montgomery … Lastly, I assure you that I am exploring every option available to remain a candidate for election as the next circuit court judge for the family court of Montgomery.”
While the revelation of Martin’s history with her own children may prevent many from bubbling in her name, it’s impossible to account for how many voters within the county will choose to vote the straight-party ticket. Many voters will show up primarily to vote for President and are likely completely unaware of this race and story.
Even for voters who do take the time to bubble in names, they must be acutely aware of the write-in campaign and motivated to act on it.
In the primary race, Sebrina Martin secured 9,601 votes compared to 5,769 for Fernando Morgan. One could mistakenly assume that means that Fernando Morgan has to find approximately 4,000 more people maximum to write him in to win. And one could also assume the bar is actually much lower due to the revelations about Martin and her children.
However, a write-in campaign is much different in that it is not enough for people to see the two names on the ballot and remember which candidate they prefer. They must actively go to the polls with the express intent to write in the candidate.
Despite those obstacles, there has been a significant outcry on social media from voters within the community, and if that passion to prevent Martin from continuing on to election persists, and is amplified to enough people, this is a rare situation in which a write-in campaign could actually stand a chance of success.