Kimberly McCuiston said she’s been pleasantly surprised by the support she has received as an independent candidate running for state Senate District 32 in Baldwin County.

The Foley resident, who is just a few hundred signatures short of being eligible to run, said she has taken advantage of the spring season and hit up festivals and venues within the district, asking registered voters to help her gain ballot access.

“We’re going to large venues where there are larger crowds,” McCuiston said. “We’ve been to all the big festivals.”

Independent candidates need to submit to the state a petition with a total of 3 percent of the number of registered voters in their district who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The deadline to submit this petition is June 3, the same day as party primaries. Once the petition is submitted, it is independently verified by Bennett’s office to make sure the signatures are from voters within a particular district.

In McCuiston’s case, the number of signatures needed is 1,465, said Ed Packard, director of elections in Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s office.

McCuiston’s son, Aaron Birka, who has helped with her campaign, said the signature campaign has gone well and they are picking up about 25 new signatures a day. He added, though, there has been some confusion over the number of signatures they needed because “every time we call the county (elections) office they keep changing it.”

Baldwin County Election Coordinator Violetta Smith said a representative from an independent campaign called the office and asked about the number of signatures needed in general. Smith said she gave the representative the number of signatures needed based on a countywide office, and not specifically in District 32. The number needed for a countywide office is larger than the number needed in District 32, which could explain the confusion, she said.

If McCuiston reaches that number, she will face incumbent Tripp Pittman in a race she believes she can win.

“With my name on the ballot, I do believe we have a very good shot at winning this,” she said. “I’m very excited to have this opportunity.”

Pittman, who has served in the Senate since 2007, said he invites the competition from McCuiston.

“I appreciate anyone who wants to get involved in the political process because there’s so much apathy,” he said. “I look forward to having a lively debate.”

McCuiston said the support shows that Baldwin County, a traditional Republican stronghold, is ready for a change, while Pittman said he stands by his record.

McCuiston joins other candidates who plan to run as independents for local offices. Local attorney Ginger Poynter hopes to get placed on the ballot for Baldwin County District Judge, while Darren Flott is looking for access to the ballot in House District 98. Their respective parties, because of loyalty issues, booted out both prospective candidates.

Poynter was banned from the GOP primary ballot by the state Republican Executive Committee for supporting Democrat Bob Vance over Roy Moore in the race for Alabama Supreme Court. Poynter has since maintained her allegiance to the Republican Party and said the decision to keep her from the primary was to protect the incumbent, Judge Michelle Thomason.

Flott was removed from the Democratic primary against incumbent Napoleon Bracy, after he conducted a write-in campaign during the last general election.

Poynter said she has exceeded the 1,735 she needed to qualify as an independent. She said she sent off her petition to the Secretary of State’s office with a total of 2,165 signatures. She is just awaiting verification.

“People have been very, very eager to sign the petition,” she said. “A lot of them have expressed anger over the Republican Party removing my name from the primary ballot.”
Much like McCuiston, Poynter has targeted events with large groups of visitors.

“We have set up tables at all the festivals and ballparks, soccer and baseball,” she said. “Ninety-five percent have signed. Most are more than willing to sign it.”
Poynter said she’s happy she decided to run as an independent to allow the voters in Baldwin County a choice in November.

“I’m very glad I decided to move forward,” she said. “By removing me from the ballot, the Republican Party was deciding who the next judge would be without the voters having a choice.”

Poynter reiterated that she believes the party was trying to protect Thomason and that’s why she was kicked off the ballot. She said instead of the party removing her from the ballot, her opponent could have used her support of a Democrat as ammunition against her in a primary race.

Despite the incident, though, Poynter said she still supports the GOP because “it’s what I believe in.”

Thomason could not be reached for comment.

Flott ran in a primary against Bracy four years ago that was filled with controversy. After the loss, Flott orchestrated a write-in campaign, for which he was punished by the Democratic Party and therefore ran as an independent this time.

Flott said he asked for forgiveness from the party, but he still wasn’t allowed on the ticket.

“I don’t think they gave people a chance to choose between both Democratic candidates,” he said.

Flott has also exceeded the 331 signatures needed in his district to be placed on the November ballot. He too is awaiting approval from the state elections office.

Although he lost four years ago, Flott, a Mount Vernon resident, feels confident he can pull off a victory against the incumbent since parts of north Mobile County have been included in District 98.

“I think I have an excellent chance to win the race,” he said.

Attempts to reach Bracy were unsuccessful.