The Alabama House of Representatives voted Thursday to adjust the runoff date in the 2024 election cycle to prevent collision with Easter, but some probate judges want the change to be permanent.
House Speaker Pro-Tem Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) sponsored House Bill 339 (HB339) to push the runoff date back two weeks.
Under existing law, the runoff primary election must be held four weeks after the primary election. During the 2024 election cycle, the runoff primary would fall on April 2, 2024, two days after Easter Sunday.
Probate judges all over the state foresaw tremendous logistical hurdles with holding the runoff that close to a holiday.
HB339 initially only applied to the 2024 election. However, the House Committee introduced a substitute to make the six-week requirement permanent.
"They're concerned about their ability to get their poll workers done and their election equipment into their voting precincts because so many of our voting precincts are churches," Pringle said. "And I think, in Alabama, we all understand how active churches can be on Easter Sunday. So, it was an attempt by the probate judges to move it so it wouldn't interfere with holy week."
He continued, "Rather than bounce it back and forth every election between four and six weeks, the committee decided just to make it a permanent six weeks… It keeps bouncing back and forth, and at some point in time, we got to stop playing ping pong with our runoff."
Most House members did not want the permanent change, with several saying it would allow their campaign's momentum to stagnate and waste money. However, a handful of lawmakers say they supported the permanent modification for the benefit it would offer military voters.
The amendment failed, gaining only 10 "yea" votes and 86 "nays" with seven abstentions. However, the original bill to change the timing of the 2024 runoff passed handily 91-11.
According to Judge Greg Cain, the Morgan County probate judge and head of the Alabama Probate Judges Association, he and the other judges would prefer a permanent six-week arrangement but are happy to get the nod from the House.
"There were some major issues we were facing in 2024," Cain said. "Along with everything trying to get ready for the election and it falling two days after Easter, trying to get everything ready during holy week. A lot of our precincts across the state are in churches, and possibly losing access to schools as well, it was just a lot of obstacles, so we are very appreciative of being able to work through that, hopefully."
Cain said even though technically probate judges are given four weeks to prepare for a runoff, Alabama law cuts that time down significantly.
"If you have a primary on Tuesday, the way the laws are laid out in Alabama, we count provisional ballots seven days later, so that would be a week later," Cain explained. "State law says we're to certify the election results 10 days from the election, so that's 10 days after the election. So that four-week time period is already down minus 10 days."
He continued, "Then we're required to have absentee ballots to the elections manager by a certain time before the runoff, and obviously, to do that, you have to know who your candidates are, so you can't even get the ballots to the company that prints them before you certify the election. …Just the logistics of getting all of that done in that condensed time period is very difficult."
Cain said the association would continue looking for ways to reduce the chaos of the current four-week time frame, but it will not pursue amending HB339 further with such little time left in the session.
"At this time in the legislative session, if we can get a fix for 2024, that gives us time to work with other legislators to see what they're willing to do," Cain concluded. "It gives us till 2026 to look at some longer-term resolutions."
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