State Senate contest comes down to a coin toss

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Whether Jay Hovey or Tom Whatley will be the Republican nominee for Alabama’s 27th Senate District will be decided by a coin toss, a state Republican caucus determined Saturday.

Hovey, a member of the Auburn City Council, won the May 24 primary against Whatley, a three-term incumbent, also from Auburn, by 1 vote, official election results showed.

Whatley disputed that result, claiming that Democrats interfered with the Republican primary to support Hovey, the state party. Under Alabama election law, it is the parties that ultimately decide which candidates to certify for the general election ballot.

The party’s steering committee heard that challenge Saturday, which included arguments from Whatley and Hovey on three ballots: One Whatley wanted it included and two Hoveys wanted it excluded. The committee included a provisional ballot for Whatley that had originally been dropped, making the race a tie. In that situation, a woman new to the district thought she was registered to vote because she applied to vote when she applied for her driver’s license. Her husband checked in at the same time with no issues, but there was a problem with her application. She was due to cast a provisional ballot on May 24.

The committee decided not to count two absentee ballots for Hovey that had been discarded due to errors in the way they were filed.

The committee did not take into account any Democratic turnout in the primary.

Whatley’s attorney declined to comment Saturday. Hovey, in a text message to the Alabama Daily News, said the state party “apparently has a different opinion than the national GOP on whether ballots should be considered illegal.”

“Certainly every vote matters and it’s unfortunate if someone makes a mistake saying they’re registered to vote,” Hovey said. “But if the proper legal process is not followed to register, a person should not be allowed to cast their vote for consideration.

“I’m sure there are countless voters in Senate District 27 who missed the registration deadline who would love to have their ballots counted after the fact. But that’s just not allowed.”

While the state code says that in the event of a tie in a primary, the state party chairman can determine the winner. The code also says that in a tie general election, the winner is decided “by lottery.”

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told the Alabama Daily News that a coin toss is permissible in this situation, if that is how the party wants to determine the winner. He said Coin tosses have resolved two elections in recent years. One was a 2018 general election for Clay County Sheriff, the second was a 2020 Houston County Board of Elections primary election.

In the case of state senators or representatives, the Alabama Code says that ties will be decided “by lot” by the secretary of state and in the presence of the governor.

ALGOP said on Saturday that no date had been set for that event.

After the coin toss, the only path to the November 8 general election for the loser is to mount a write-in campaign.

Sherri Reese is the Democrat running in Senate District 27, which includes Lee County and parts of Russell and Tallapoosa counties.

On Saturday, the steering committee also denied races in Alabama’s 28th and 29th House Districts, where two Republican candidates called for redoing their primaries after human errors related to the 2021 redrawing of district lines meant that some voters got incorrect ballots on May 24. The committee’s decisions mean former lawmaker Mack Butler is the Republican candidate in HD28 and Mark Gidley is the candidate in HD29.

Leave a Comment