Alabama’s municipal elections in 2020 brought about changes in mayoral seats and on city councils in most cities from North Alabama to the Gulf Coast.
Voters elected public officials who were scheduled to serve for four-year terms with the next round of municipal elections scheduled for August 2024. The rotation has been set that way since the 1980s.
But state lawmakers, this past spring, overwhelmingly adopted new legislation to extend those terms out one additional year. Now, elections from Fairhope to Muscle Shoals will take place in 2025 and will join the municipal contests occurring in Birmingham and Mobile, which have historically held their elections during off-cycle years.
Gregory Cochran, executive director with the Alabama League of Municipalities, said the change was made to move the municipal elections off the same calendar year as presidential elections.
The rationale, he said, included the following:
-- Volunteer poll worker fatigue; and
-- Equipment shortages,
Voter confusion from having to jockey from multiple voting venues within the same calendar year
“We are hopeful this will eliminate many of these challenges in future voting years,” Cochran said.
The legislation that steered the change was SB119, sponsored by Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills. It was approved unanimously by the Alabama Senate, and with a 91-5 vote in the House before Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed it into law in July.
Cities affected by the new law will now hold their elections in August 2025. Candidate qualifying periods moved from July to June. The timeframe for the runoffs would be moved from six weeks to four to mirror the runoff timeframes for county and state elections.
About 11 municipalities are unaffected by the new law including some of the state’s largest cities: Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa. Six cities will continue hosting their elections in 2022, with their schedules unchanged. Auburn, Bessemer, and Gadsden are hosting city elections on August 23, 2022. Huntsville, Mountain Brook and Scottsboro will host elections for three council seats during that same day.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he believes the new law will reduce “election fatigue.”
“When you have in Alabama are primaries and runoffs, and then you have municipal contests in the summer, and then you have the presidential/general election in November,” he said. “People are suffering from election fatigue. This (law) moves all of that to 2025.”
The legislation granted a one-year extension of terms for municipal officer holders who won four-year terms in 2020.
Some municipal mayors see the advantage of allowing continuity of local leadership for an extra year so that goals and projects can be finalized.
“Having an extra year with the current team of leaders will allow continuity on projects,” said Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich. “More importantly, stability in local government is important because people look to their local government to just plain work. If a city has good leadership, it’s a good change. If a city has bad leadership, it’s not so good.”
Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said he believes the consolidation of municipal elections into 2025 will increase voter awareness and turnout.
“It saves money, avoids voters confusing their polling place for municipal and federal elections,” Brocato said. “Additionally, it makes it a little easier to recruit poll workers.”
He added, “However, I can’t help but think that with most municipalities participating at the same time, citizens across the state will be more informed about their local election and this will increase turnout.”