Ala. Gov. Candidates Dispute Result
Nov. 06, 2002
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ What looked like a razor-thin lead for Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman apparently disappeared early Wednesday when one Alabama county revised its count and cut Siegelman's total by more than 6,000 votes. Siegelman quickly disputed the change, and the race was thrown into turmoil as both he and challenger Rep. Bob Riley claimed victory.
Election officials in Baldwin County originally showed Siegelman with 19,070 votes, but later reduced his tally to 12,736 _ a change that would put Riley in the overall lead. Probate Judge James Reid said the revised number would be certified as the official result later Wednesday.
But Siegelman campaign spokesman Rip Andrews said the governor believes his original tally was correct in Baldwin County. And Siegelman himself declared victory at a party in Montgomery, telling supporters, ``How sweet it is.''
Riley, meanwhile, was also calling himself the victor.
``We win,'' he told supporters in Talladega. ``Alabama's got a new day coming.''
The original 19,070 vote total for Siegelman was given in a printout of Baldwin County votes that was provided to news organizations, including The Associated Press. But Capt. Marvin Ussery of the Baldwin County Sheriff's Department said Siegelman's numbers were lowered after the data cartridges from voting machines were run through computers a second time because of a suspected error.
The change would be enough to shift the advantage to Riley in a race separated by only a few thousand votes out of 1.3 million cast.
Under Baldwin County's initial tally, Siegelman was leading 674,052 to 670,913, a margin of 3,139. But under the revised number, Riley was in the lead 670,913 to 667,718, a margin of 3,195. Libertarian John Sophocleus polled a statewide total of 23,242 votes under both accounts.
The dispute stirred images of the Bush-Gore presidential election debacle in Florida two years ago.
``Do you remember what happened in Florida and how close the vote was and the hanging chads?'' Riley said early Wednesday.
Alabama does not have a law providing for an automatic recount in tight races. Instead, a voter can seek a recount with each county canvassing board, but it requires putting up a security bond, said Chuck Grainger, attorney for the secretary of state's office.
Riley had gained momentum in the campaign's final days with accusations the incumbent oversaw a corrupt administration.
Siegelman, 56, has held public office in Alabama for 20 years, serving as secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor. After reaching the governor's office four years ago, he lured automakers Honda and Hyundai to Alabama and launched the largest school construction and road building programs in state history.
But ethical problems dogged his administration, with four businessmen _ including two major campaign supporters _ convicted in ongoing federal and state investigations. Officials have sought some of the governor's financial records.
Riley repeatedly criticized Siegelman for awarding state contracts to friends and contributors, labeling the incumbent's term ``the most corrupt administration in my adult lifetime.''
Riley, 58, was a businessman in small-town Ashland, running an egg business, car dealership and trucking company before winning his first of three terms in Congress in 1996. Siegelman criticized the congressman for his failure to pay property taxes and condominium fees on time in Alabama and Florida, and for posting the fourth-worst attendance record of any current member of Congress since 1995.
The campaign has been Alabama's most expensive ever, with Riley spending $12.6 million and Siegelman $9.6 million before the campaign's last weekend. That easily topped the $7.7 million that Siegelman spent four years ago to win the office.