AL Senate Race Could Hinge On Larger-Than-Normal Number Of Write-In Votes

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at  a campaign rally, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in Henagar, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/AP

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Sculptor Lee Busby and University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban could play a key role in determining whether Republican Roy Moore or Democrat Doug Jones becomes Alabama’s next U.S. senator.

A race that was initially expected to be a GOP walkover feels surprisingly close following allegations against Moore of sexual misconduct, and state election officials already are laying the groundwork for a larger-than-normal number of write-in votes. That’s where Busby and Saban come in.

While Saban isn’t running for anything other than a national championship, ‘Bama coaches typically wind up with write-in votes in state elections. Busby, meanwhile, is a retired Marine colonel from Tuscaloosa who’s launched a write-in candidacy in response to a campaign upended by allegations that Moore was involved in sexual misconduct decades ago.

Busby, describing himself as a typical Alabama Republican who supports President Donald Trump, said Thursday he’s running partly out of frustration.

“I did it because I could not bring myself to bring myself to pick either of the two binary choices we have as Alabama voters,” he said. “I’m not attracted to the Moore campaign … and I cannot bring myself to cast a vote for the Democratic Party to represent Alabama in the United States Senate.”

Busby isn’t alone, and several other people also are touting themselves as write-in alternatives, including Libertarian Ron Bishop.

At least one write-in vote already has been cast: Sen. Richard Shelby said he wrote in the name of a “distinguished” Republican on an absentee ballot rather than vote for Moore or a Democrat. But there’s no guarantee that any write-in votes will be counted.

Anticipating questions about write-in voting, the secretary of state’s office released a statement saying such votes won’t be counted unless the total number of write-in ballots exceeds the difference between the two leading candidates once other votes are tallied.

Even then, the agency said, write-in votes wouldn’t be counted until the seventh day after the election, when provisional ballots and absentee ballots cast by military personnel and overseas residents are compiled. So yes, the election suspense could drag on for days if it’s close.

Alabama’s last write-in campaign of statewide importance was in 1986, when Democrat Charlie Graddick launched a write-in bid after being stripped of a narrow win in a gubernatorial runoff election against Bill Baxley. A party subcommittee ruled Republicans swayed the race illegally by voting in the Democratic election and gave Baxley the nomination.

Graddick dropped the write-in campaign eventually and Guy Hunt was elected to become the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Graddick switched parties and is now a Republican state court judge in Mobile.

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