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After ballot mix-ups in Etowah County, House candidates file challenges to primary results

By MARY SELL and MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

Two  GOP candidates for Alabama House seats on Thursday filed contests with the state party, asking for re-dos in their primaries after human errors related to the 2021 redrawing of district lines meant some voters got incorrect ballots last week.

The Etowah County Board of Registrars was alerted to the issue in April when it was spotted on an absentee ballot. Officials thought the issue had been corrected, but it was not.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday said it was still unknown how many ballots were affected by that error. His office is working with the county to determine that, but it could take several more weeks.

In House District 28, certified results from the Secretary of State’s office show former legislator Mack Butler defeating incumbent Rep. Gil Isbell, R-Gadsden, by 219 votes. Next door in House District 29, Mark Gidley won with 4,014 votes against Jamie Grant’s 3,940.

In a challenge filed Thursday, Isbell’s attorney asked that Isbell be declared the primary winner or “declare the election void by determining that it is impossible from the evidence to decide who is the legally nominated candidate and direct a new, second primary election.”

Attorney Kirk Mattei said a new primary would be allowable under a state code section 17-13-87 that says the state party can have a new primary contest if “it is impossible from the evidence before it to decide who is the legally nominated candidate for the office contested…”

Merrill said there isn’t a path or process in the state for a redo and parties, under  Alabama code section 17-13-42, must adhere to the primary process once they agree to participate in one.

“Once (a party) came under 17-13-42, and they say that they want to be considered as a party that is utilizing the primary and runoff and general election process, at that point they have to consent to follow the (rules) that govern the administration of an election.”

There has been at least one election do-over in Alabama. Steve French was ALGOP executive director when some St. Clair County voters received ballots that omitted a House race between Fred Hughes and Mike Fricker.

“It turned out, the probate judge’s office failed to get the right ballots to a few precincts,” French told Alabama Daily News on Thursday.

“The race was close enough that it was determined that we did not have any way to discern who the actual winner would have been,” French said.

Another election for that race was held on the runoff date, French said.

That new election changed the initial outcome of the race and Fricker was elected.

No Democrats are running in either of the Etowah House districts.

Other races

According to the ALGOP, other challenges received were in:

  • Alabama Senate District 27, where incumbent Sen. Tom Whatley of Auburn lost by one vote to Auburn City Councilman Jay Hovey;
  • Alabama House District 1, where incumbent Phillip Pettus held off challenger  Maurice McCaney by about 360 votes;
  • Alabama House District 2, where four Republicans were vying for the seat currently held by Rep. Lynn Greer. By thin margins, Jason Black and Ben Harrison advanced to a runoff, with Kimberly Butler narrowly missing it.
  • Lauderdale County Commission District 1;
  • Several Lauderdale County ALGOP State Executive Committee seats;
  • Several Lauderdale County ALGOP Executive Committee seats.

The challenges filed with the state party are different from requests for recounts that are filed at the county party level. The deadline for both was Thursday.

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