Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett announced Thursday that the state has moved the qualifying deadline for statewide races to Feb. 7 — nearly two months earlier than the April 4 deadline established by law.
According to a press release from Bennett's office, the date was changed as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which had challenged the state’s original qualifying dates on the grounds that they didn't give military personnel and other U.S. citizens abroad enough time to receive their absentee ballots.
“Though we do not have yet an order from the court, we have agreed with the Department of Justice to move our deadlines up considerably to get ballots to the Absentee Election Managers in each county,” Bennett was quoted as saying in a press release. “This will allow ballots enough time to be sent to military and overseas voters well before the federal deadline, which is 45 days before the date of the election.”
The change will require action by the Legislature as well. In the press release, Bennett said he would try to pass a bill changing the qualifying dates in the coming session, which begins Jan. 14.
Officials in Bennett's office referred all questions to deputy secretary of state Emily Thompson. The Star's attempts to reach Thompson for further comment Thursday were not successful.
The Alabama House and Senate are elected on four-year cycles, with every seat in the Legislature coming up for re-election this year. Most statewide constitutional offices, including the offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, are also up for election in 2014.
Many candidates have already announced their intent to run, something they must do before raising money for their campaigns. Still, no one is officially qualified yet as a candidate in the June primaries, because qualifying hasn't officially begun.
Democrats expect to open qualifying on Feb. 1, said statewide party chairwoman Nancy Worley. The new Feb. 7 deadline would narrow the Democrats' qualifying window to less than a week.
Worley said Bennett had warned both major parties of a potential change weeks ago. She said she didn't expect the change to pose a major problem.
"Most of your serious candidates qualify the first day qualifying is open," she said.
That day could come as early as Monday for Republicans. Party chairman Bill Armistead said he'll meet with the GOP's steering committee Friday and propose that the party open qualifying on Jan. 6.
"We'll have to get a lot more done in a shorter time," Armistead said.
He said he didn't think the change would alter the outcome of the qualifying period.
"We expect to have a full slate not only for the statewide offices, but for the county races," he said.
Republicans hold all statewide constitutional offices, and most of those office-holders are running for re-election. Democrats are still filling out their slate of potential statewide candidates.
Gov. Robert Bentley will likely face former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Lee George, in the Republican primary for governor in June. Kevin Bass, a Fayette business owner and former minor league baseball player, announced his candidacy for Democratic nomination in late December.
Stan Cooke, a minister from Jefferson County, has announced he'll challenge sitting Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, while James Fields, a former member of the state House of Representatives, has said he'll seek the Democratic nomination.
Primaries will be held June 3, with the general election on Nov. 4.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.