published Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Qualifying deadline shift in Alabama creates party scramble

KEY VOTER DATES

May 23: Last day to register for June 3 primary

June 3: Primary election

July 4: Last day to register for July 15 primary runoff

July 15: Primary runoff

Aug. 26: Municipal election in Scottsboro (Jackson County)

Oct. 24: Last day to register for Nov. 4 general election

Nov. 4: General election

Source: Jackson County and DeKalb County probate offices and boards of registrar officials

Alabama candidates for major party primaries in 2014 had better get on the stick.

Secretary of State Jim Bennett announced with the New Year that qualifying dates will leap forward by two months, from April 4 to Feb. 7.

"It has made the parties scramble to get everything in order, but it'll work out," said Donna Fredrick, a member of the state Democratic executive committee and staff member in the Jackson County Probate Office, which oversees county elections.

The shuffle doesn't change election dates but shortens the time incumbents and challengers have to qualify to run.

"It won't affect anything for voters," DeKalb County Probate Judge Ronnie Osborne said.

"Incumbent people who are already in office, they're loving it. Opponents got to do it quick if they want to get qualified, or the incumbents will be unopposed," Osborne said.

All state and federal races are affected. In Jackson and DeKalb counties, the change affects local races for for sheriff, revenue commissioner, coroner and county Board of Education seats -- in BOE districts 3 and 4 in Jackson County and districts 2 and 4 in DeKalb County.

The change also applies to the DeKalb County Commission chairman position and two commission seats, Osborn said.

Statewide, Republican qualifying opens Monday, but Jackson County Board of Registrars Chairman Larry Hancock said local Republican qualifying opened Tuesday of this week.

Jackson County Democrats won't open qualifying until late next week, county Democratic Executive Board Chairman Hugh Whisenant said.

The state Democratic Party Executive Committee meets Jan. 14.

"It would be Thursday at the earliest that we'll open qualifying," Whisenant said. "But that's depending on whether we get the packets from the state."

DeKalb County's Democratic Party will open qualifying as soon as Monday, according to DeKalb County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Jayson Carroll. Carroll said committee members could teleconference a meeting over the next few days to make a decision.

DeKalb County Republicans will open qualifying Monday, state party officials said.

The new date won't affect the June 3 qualifying deadlines for independent candidates and candidates of parties that did not get more than 20 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election, state officials said.

The date change is part of ongoing litigation with the U.S. Department of Justice over military and overseas voting deadlines.

"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 manager in each county," Bennett said in a 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."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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