Jefferson County Commission

Whoa Nelly!: Plans for a Special Election to Fill Commission Seat Won’t Be Made Until After the End of May

Steve Ammons resigned 5/5/2023 from the Jefferson County Commission. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

It’s tempting to put the cart before the horse when it comes to determining a successor to District 5 Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons.

But prospective voters will have to hold their horses before learning the specifics of the special election that will take place this summer.

Probate Judge James P. Naftel II said the process begins when there is actually an opening. Ammons gave his notice of resignation May 5 to become CEO for the Birmingham Business Alliance. His resignation is effective May 31, so the clock starts then.

“The local act that governs how we do this says that when there’s a vacancy, we have to have a meeting of the Election Commission within seven days after the vacancy occurs,” Naftel said. “We’re talking about it now and planning it. Everybody knows it’s going to happen, but we can’t have that meeting and set the election until there’s actually a vacancy.”

When the Election Commission, which Naftel leads, does meet, it will have to navigate a summer calendar that includes the Fourth of July, Juneteenth and a summer conference of probate judges the last week of June.

“Because it’s summer and we’ve got holidays and things like that, we’re trying to be careful about how we do the timing of this,” the judge said, offering that the Election Commission could meet June 8. “Once we meet, we have to pass a resolution calling for a special election 33 to 40 days after that meeting.”

Naftel said July 11 is a possible date, but he doubted that everything could be prepared and ready to go by then.

“I think what we’re looking at — and this is not official; this is just me talking — is July 18 as the election date,” he said. “Then if there was a runoff needed, it would be three weeks after that, which would be August 8.

“Again, that’s not official,” Naftel cautioned. “We haven’t met as a commission and passed that resolution. But in terms of timing, that’s kind of what we’re looking at.”

Anyone who wants to run for the office must file a statement of candidacy and a petition in probate court 21 days before the first election. District 5 includes south and southeastern sections of Jefferson County.

“It’s not a primary because you don’t do it by parties,” Naftel said. “Everybody just runs. We’re not putting D’s and R’s by people’s names. We haven’t in the past. It’s just an open election with whoever qualifies. It’s a little different animal than what we usually deal with.”

To his knowledge, the judge said, no individual has called and asked how to qualify.

“In 2010, which is the last time we had a special election for an open county commissioner’s seat, that was District 1,” Naftel said. “I believe there were 14 candidates in the initial election, and then there was a runoff after that.”

George Bowman compiled 55.5% of the vote in that 2010 runoff to beat Birmingham City Council member Johnathan Austin, who garnered 44.4%. Only 6% of the more than 65,000 registered voters in the district exercised their right, according to a Fox 6 report.

The vote was called following William Bell’s departure to be mayor of Birmingham. The 2010 special election dovetailed into the gubernatorial primary, which prompted more people to go to the polls.

“You’ve got 100,000 or less in that district. Who knows what turnout will be on a Tuesday in July to fill one seat?” Naftel asked. “It’s not going to be 50%, probably, unless something really strange happens that ignites that race.”