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Alabama Governor Reviews Options

November 7, 2002

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP)_ With the nation’s final governor’s race still in dispute, Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman talked with his lawyers Thursday over whether to challenge the vote in a GOP stronghold that appears to give his Republican opponent the victory.

Under state law, Siegelman must act by Friday to challenge results from Baldwin County that helped give Republican Rep. Bob Riley a 3,195-vote lead out of 1.3 million votes cast statewide.

The governor said no decision had been made on what to do.

Siegelman, 56, is trying to win a second term and post a rare Democratic victory in the South after the GOP won governor’s races in Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas on Tuesday.

Riley, 58, a three-term congressman, has criticized Siegelman as the overseer of ``the most corrupt administration in my adult lifetime.″

Baldwin County took center stage when election officials released results Tuesday night showing Siegelman with 19,070 votes _ enough for a narrow victory statewide. Later, they recounted and reduced Siegelman’s tally to 12,736 votes _ enough to give Riley the victory.

Probate Judge Adrian Johns, a member of the county canvassing board, blamed the initial, higher number on ``a programming glitch in the software″ that tallies the votes. The governor cried foul, claiming the results were changed after poll watchers had left.

Both candidates declared victory. While Siegelman toured tornado damage Thursday, Riley met with trustees at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to discuss his transition.

Along with seeking a recount, Siegelman’s options include challenging the election in court or contesting it before the Alabama Legislature. No candidate for governor has pursued the legislative route in modern times, but if Siegelman did, the entire Legislature _ 89 Democrats and 51 Republicans _ would decide which candidate won.

Attorney General Bill Pryor, a Republican, said a recount in Baldwin County would not help the governor. He said the first numbers _ the ones that gave Siegelman the victory _ add up to more than the actual number of voters.

``It looks like we’ve got a new governor,″ added Chuck Grainger, attorney in the secretary of state’s office.

Also, an Associated Press analysis of disputed election returns show that if Siegelman received 19,070 votes in Baldwin County, the county’s vote totals would be far out of line with voting patterns in Alabama’s other 66 counties. But if Siegelman received the lower figure of 12,736 votes, the total would be in keeping with the trend in other counties. The AP analysis was based on a comparison of vote totals for governor and for senator in each county.

Baldwin County certified its revised tally Wednesday. Siegelman complained it acted too swiftly, saying state law sets certification for Friday.

Pryor said even though the law specifies Friday, canvassing boards should certify the results on the same day and time they have used in the past. Changes in Alabama election procedures must be approved by the Justice Department, Pryor said.

It wasn’t immediately known if Baldwin County has certified votes the day after an election in the past.

A professor who studied voting systems nationwide in the wake of the 2000 presidential debacle in Florida called Baldwin County’s 6,334-vote adjustment against Siegelman ``huge″ for a county using optical scanning machines.

``This is very unusual,″ said Stephen Ansolabehere, a political scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he cast doubt on any deliberate mischief.

``You’d have to have someone throw away 6,000 ballots,″ he said.

More election trouble cropped up Thursday when Mobile County officials discovered 187 absentee ballots they hadn’t counted. The counting began Wednesday afternoon, clerk Susan Wilson said.

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