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State Senate contest comes down to coin flip

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Whether Jay Hovey or Tom Whatley will be the Republican nominee for Alabama Senate District 27 will be decided by a coin flip, a state GOP committee determined on Saturday.

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

Whatley contested that result, alleging Democrats interfered with the GOP primary to support Hovey, to the state party.  Under Alabama election law, it is the parties who 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 about three ballots — one Whatley wanted included and two Hovey wanted excluded. The committee included a provisional ballot for Whatley that had originally been thrown out, making the race a tie. In that situation, a woman new to the district thought she was registered to vote because she requested to do so when she applied for her driver’s license. Her husband registered at the same time with no problem, but there was an issue with her application. She had to cast a provisional ballot on May 24.

Hovey had asked the committee to exclude two absentee ballots for Whatley that had been counted. Hovey argued there were errors with the ballots. The committee did not exclude them.

The committee did not take into account any Democrat involvement in the primary.

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

“Certainly every vote is important and it’s unfortunate if anyone is mistaken that they are registered to vote,” Hovey said. “But if the proper, legal process isn’t followed to register, a person shouldn’t be allowed to cast a ballot to be considered. 

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

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

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told Alabama Daily News a coin flip is allowable in this situation, if that’s how the party wants to determine the winner. He said  coin flips have settled two elections in recent years. One was a 2018 general election for Clay County sheriff, the second was a 2020 Houston County board of election primary.

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

The ALGOP said Saturday a date had not been determined for that event.

After the coin flip, the only path toward the Nov. 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.

The steering committee on Saturday also denied contests in Alabama House Districts 28 and 29, where two GOP candidates asked for re-dos in their primaries after human errors related to the 2021 redrawing of district lines meant some voters got incorrect ballots on May 24. The committee’s decisions mean former legislator Mack Butler is the GOP nominee in HD28 and Mark Gidley is the nominee in HD29.

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