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Alabama Ballot Access Lawsuit on Special Elections Transferred from One Judge to Another

On August 20, the Alabama ballot access lawsuit Hall v Bennett was transferred from U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller to Judge Myron Thompson. This is the case on whether states must reduce the number of signatures, or extend the deadline, for independent candidates in special elections. The basis for arguing that the Constitution requires such an action is rooted in due process, because in special elections, the amount of time to collect signatures is invariably far shorter.

Alabama is in the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled in 1982 that Georgia must either extend the deadline, or reduce the number of signatures, in a legislative election in which the Citizens Party was trying to get on the ballot. The normal petitioning time was reduced in that case, not because the election was a special election, but because the district boundaries had been drawn so late in the season that the normal 6-month petitioning period was not available.

Despite the 1982 Eleventh Circuit precedent, last year Judge Fuller refused to give injunctive relief to James Hall, an independent candidate for U.S. House in Alabama’s First District. Hall had made a good attempt, but because the petitioning period was only two or three months (the calculation is ambiguous), instead of the normal unlimited time period for collecting signatures, he was only able to collect about half the needed signatures. Approximately 6,000 valid signatures were required.

The case is still pending because Judge Fuller had not yet ruled on the constitutionality of refusing to reduce the requirements when the time period is shortened. Now that the case has been assigned to Judge Thompson, the chances for a victory seem enhanced. In 2002, in Campbell v Bennett, 212 F.Supp.2d 1339 (M.D.Ala.), Judge Thompson ruled that it violates due process for the state to increase the petition requirement from 1% to 3% of the last gubernatorial vote only a few weeks before the petition was due.

The Hall case was transferred away from Judge Fuller because all of his cases have been transferred to other judges, because last week he was arrested on a charge of physically injuring his wife.

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