By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
State Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, conceded Friday morning in the State Senate District 27 contest, ending a five-week election saga that was creating a rift in the Republican Party.
Auburn City Councilman Jay Hovey will be the Republican’s nominee. Hovey now faces Democrat Sherri Reese for the district that includes Lee County and parts of Russell and Tallapoosa counties.
“I’m thankful for the prayers and words of encouragement from my supporters throughout District 27,” Hovey said Friday afternoon. “This has been a potentially divisive experience. But we have maintained that we would be successful by standing with integrity and running a clean campaign about me and my desire to serve.”
Whatley’s announcement came about an hour before the ALGOP Candidate Committee met and reversed its June 25 decision to count a previously excluded provisional ballot for Whatley. The committee’s original decision made the contest a tie that the party said would be decided by a coin flip. The party said Friday it included Patsy Kenney’s ballot “while there was any reasonable doubt that she could have actually been registered to vote.”
But early this week, it was clear she wasn’t registered, according to both the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Secretary of State John Merrill. Kenney had attempted to register and thought she had, she said. But according to ALEA, she never completed the documentation necessary to get her driver license and complete the registration process.
Merrill confirmed to Alabama Daily News Tuesday that Kenney was not a registered voter for the May 24 primary election but became one after registering at her polling place.
“We believe in the rule of law, and that only legal votes should be counted,” the party said in a statement Friday.
The party also eluded to issues in other races, but didn’t name them. Two Alabama House races in Etowah County were impacted by voters receiving the wrong ballots, but the party opted last week not to intervene. Another challenge is expected next week in House District 2 in Lauderdale and Limestone counties.
“This election cycle has revealed several areas of serious concern in the election process,” the statement said. “These issues led to problems that hurt the Alabama Republican Party, our candidates, and our voters. We plan to work with lawmakers, the Secretary of State, Probate Judges, Boards of Registrars, and ALEA to find solutions to these problems, and to make sure they don’t happen again. The ALGOP believes Alabama and our voters deserve better.”
In a statement Friday morning, Whatley said the last 12 years in office had been fantastic and he thanked his supporters.
“With that said, I now believe that it is in the best interest of my friends, colleagues, family, and the Republican Party, for me to step away from this tied race so that we can move forward and have success in November,” Whatley said. “I am looking forward to spending some quality time with my wife and daughter, focusing on my law practice and other business interests. It has been the honor of a lifetime serving the people of Lee, Russell, and Tallapoosa counties.”
The three-term incumbent’s decision ends the dispute that began when Hovey, an Auburn City Council member beat Whatley by four votes on election night. When provisional ballots were cast, Hovey’s lead shrank to one vote. Whatley’s team initially filed a request for a recount in one Tallapoosa County precinct, but withdrew it. At the same time, it challenged the election results to the state party. Under Alabama law, it is the parties that ultimately decide their nominees in general elections.
About 16,730 ballots were cast in the May 24 primary, one of the lowest turnouts for state Senate GOP primaries.
According to campaign finance information from the secretary of state, Whatley spent about $1.29 million on the race, Hovey spent $103,000.
Whatley, an attorney, was first elected in 2010. Since 2021, he’s chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. Prior to that, he chaired the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. A member of the Alabama National Guard, Whatley often sponsored military related bills.