A Mobile County Circuit Judge ruled against a former Republican state House candidate from Semmes, who had asked for an injunction that would force the state Republican Party to count votes cast for him in next Tuesday’s primary election.
Judge Rick Stout didn’t believe there was enough evidence to support claims by Chris McNeil, a former candidate for House District 103, that the state Republican Party’s decision to boot him from the ticket was done unfairly and would disenfranchise voters in the district.
Stout ruled the plaintiff didn’t show any procedural violation by the party that would constitute an injunctive order before the election takes place.
“I don’t find any violation of constitutional rights,” Stout said.
McNeil and attorney Al Agricola filed suit last week against Mobile County Republican Executive Committee Chairwoman Terry Lathan and state Republican Executive Committee Chairman Bill Armistead, after the state GOP Candidate Committee voted to remove McNeil from the primary ticket, after a determination that he lived outside his district.
McNeil said he was disappointed with the ruling, after a nearly four-hour hearing. He said he hasn’t determined his next move, but hasn’t ruled out running as an Independent candidate with just a week left to acquire more than the 700 signatures needed in order to qualify.
“I don’t know what road we’re going down,” McNeil said. “We have to sit down and discuss it. Time is not on our side.”
At issue was where McNeil lived. His home is near the dividing line between districts 101 and 102; however, he lives on the District 101 side. He is registered to vote in District 101.
Lathan said she believed the process couldn’t have played out any differently.
“If you’re a legal candidate you should live in the district,” she said. “I don’t think it can be any different.”
The hearing included testimony from Armistead, Lathan and various members of the state Republican Candidate Committee. In addition, the court heard testimony about other residency challenges in other parts of the state that the party ignored, although some of that testimony was later stricken from the record.
Agricola argued that the GOP picked McNeil unfairly to boot off the primary ballot over residency concerns and chose to ignore other residency challenges in other parts of the state. Party attorney Colin Luke argued those cases were different and pointed out through testimony that this case was the first one in which the party dealt with a candidate who admitted he didn’t live in the district.
Agricola argued since the ballots have already been printed with McNeil’s name that the party’s decision to not count votes for McNeil would disenfranchise voters in the district. Luke, during cross examination of the candidate, made the argument that McNeil disenfranchised voters by not letting them know he didn’t live in the district once he found out in early February.
McNeil repeatedly said he told voters about his residency, while on the campaign trail. He also said he let the party know, when he filed his qualifying paperwork under his current address.
Agricola admitted his client didn’t live in the district, but argued the Alabama Constitution allowed a candidate to live in the same county of the district in order to qualify.
Luke said two separate rulings from then Attorney General Bill Pryor in 2002, an Alabama Supreme Court ruling and Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s website state that residency within the district for a year prior to the election is required for qualification as a candidate.
“At the time the constitution was written state representatives ran county wide,” Luke argued.
McNeil was treated unfairly by the party because Terry Lathan’s husband Jerry, who is on the party’s Candidate Committee failed to recuse himself even though his wife brought the residency complaint, Agricola argued. The plaintiffs argued that Jerry Lathan was a well-respected member of the committee and influenced the 10-6 vote against McNeil’s qualification.
In a previous story, McNeil said he believed the decision to boot him from the ballot came because the party favored Jack Williams, one of his opponents for the seat.
Terry Lathan put that to rest Tuesday after the hearing.
“If Jack Williams lived outside the district we’d treat him the same way,” she said.
McNeil’s disqualification means that the seat now has two contestants in Williams and Anthony Clarkbanks.