Vote recount could prove costly for GOP

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One almost has to be past the age of 40 to understand the possibility of what looms on Alabama’s political horizon.

Twenty-four years ago, Alabama’s Democrats found themselves in a situation similar to the one faced by Republicans this year. There was a clear front-runner in the Republican primary, Bradley Byrne, but he only won 27.8 percent of the votes cast last Tuesday. He needed 50 percent plus one vote to be declared the Republican nominee.

Barely in second place is Robert Bentley, who holds that spot by only 167 votes more than those received by the third place candidate, Tim James. The numbers were finalized yesterday.

But James is demanding a recount, saying he’ll start with the “most Republican” counties to determine how many counties he’ll ask to recount their votes.

If a recount changes the outcome, the perception among Alabama voters will be that some backroom dealings caused the change, or that James and his supporters bought the election.

Such was the case in 1986 when the state’s Democrats went through a ballot dispute. Bill Baxley and Charlie Graddick squared off in a runoff, won in vote count by Graddick. But state Democratic party officials ruled that Graddick won only because of crossover votes cast by Republicans in the Democratic primary and the party heads chose Baxley as their nominee.

The Democratic doesn’t allow crossover voting, but the Republicans have no rules against it. Neither party has a “policing mechanism” to determine if crossover votes are cast.

The voter backlash in 1986 led to the election of Alabama’s first Republican governor in more than a century.

The state’s GOP leaders hope to avoid the mistakes the opposition made 24 years ago, and party chairman Mike Hubbard has said the recount will be a logistical challenge.

It’s horrible timing for the GOP, who for the first time ever in Alabama, had more votes cast in their primary that the Democrats. There were 492,000 Republican voters last week and only 319,000 Democrats.

The GOP appears poised to dominate state politics for the next few election cycles. But a nasty legal battle over a recount could cost the party the ground it’s gained.