MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s election chief says it is doubtful the outcome of the state’s U.S. Senate race will change, even as Republican Roy Moore looks to a possible recount.
“It would be very unlikely for that to occur,” Secretary of State John Merrill said late Tuesday from his office at the Alabama Capitol.
Moore refused to concede the Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones, who pulled off a stunning upset in what is normally a reliably Republican-leaning state. Jones led by 22,000 votes, or about 1.5 percent, with all precincts counted.
“When the vote is this close, it is not over. We still have to go by the rules by this recount provision,” Moore told supporters.
A 2003 Alabama law triggers an automatic recount when the winner’s margin of victory is less than half of one percent. Jones’ margin is currently about three times that threshold.
To obtain an automatic recount, lingering ballots – such as those mailed in by military personnel – would first have to reduce Jones’s margin of victory. “The numbers that we saw tonight are going to change. I don’t know what the margin will be after that,” Merrill said. However, he noted that, “Doug Jones is going to get some of those votes.”
There are three types of votes yet to be counted that could somewhat alter the margin between Jones and Moore: overseas ballots mailed in by military personnel and others; provisional ballots when there is a question on whether the person is qualified to vote, and write-in votes.
The margin of victory between Jones and Moore could also be altered depending on whether write-in votes are counted. Write-in votes are totaled and counted only if they exceed the difference between the first and second place candidates.
The state canvassing board will declare whether an automatic recount is needed when it meets sometime between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3.
If a recount does occur, Moore would have to pick up enough votes in a recount to surpass Jones, who currently has a roughly 22,000-vote lead. Merrill said that in his experience, recounts do not change the final result by much.
Under state law, Moore could still request a recount if the margin is greater than half of one percent, but his campaign would have to pay the cost. The secretary of state did not have an immediate estimate of the cost.
State legislators passed the seldom used recount law in 2003, following an election dispute between then-Gov. Don Siegelman and Republican challenger Bob Riley. It was used in 2004 when a proposal to delete unenforceable segregationist language from the state constitution narrowly failed.