- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Legislative Black Caucus argued Tuesday that Gov. Robert Bentley is violating state election law by waiting until 2018 to hold the election to fill Jeff Sessions’ former Senate seat.

In a press conference Tuesday, Rep. Chris England said he believes the law is clear that a special election should be called this year instead of waiting until the 2018 regular statewide election as Bentley plans.

“We just want him to follow the law,” said England, D-Tuscaloosa.

The date of the Senate election has become a point of contention between those who think it should be this year and Bentley, who has scheduled the election for 2018.

Under Alabama law, when there is a Senate vacancy, the governor makes an interim appointment until an election can be held to fill the seat for the remainder of the term. The century-old law says that the governor shall call an election “forthwith” if a vacancy occurs more than four months before the regularly scheduled election. However, it doesn’t specify a timeframe beyond that.

“Most people you talk to will tell you forthwith means immediately, without an undue delay and in a reasonable amount of time. Forthwith does not mean a year-and-a-half. Forthwith does not mean two years,” England said.

England said letting the governor’s interim appointment serve for nearly two years before the election gives them an advantage in trying to hold on to the seat permanently. He said the group is considering litigation.

Bentley last week appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the seat vacated when Sessions became U.S. attorney general.

Bentley has said the election will be held in 2018. His office Tuesday officially set the election dates to coincide with the regularly scheduled 2018 elections - a primary on June 5, 2018, and the general election on Nov. 6, 2018.

The governor’s legal office, in an emailed response, said the 2018 date is allowed by law and will save the state the cost of a statewide special election.

“In this circumstance, the statute does not set a specific time to set the special election, and certainly does not say that the special election cannot be at the same time as the next general election,” the statement read. Voter turnout will be higher in the regularly scheduled elections instead of a special election with only the Senate race on the ballot, the governor’s office said.

The governor’s legal office said it will also allow the state to comply with requirements to get ballots to soldiers serving overseas. England argued that could be accomplished in 2017.

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