Will There Be A Recount in The Alabama Special Election? There Are Rules For This Kind Of Thing

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, Democratic candidate Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in the special election for an Alabama Senate seat. It was a sore loss for Moore, his conservative defenders, and President Donald Trump, who threw his support behind the candidate. Given that the race was so tight, and that a Democratic win is extremely rare in Alabama — a consistently deep red state — it seems likely that there will be calls to recount the votes.

Moore suggested as much in a speech, given around 10:30 p.m. local time, after thanking his supporters. "[R]ealize when the vote is this close that it's not over. And we still got to go by the rules about this recount provision," he said.

A recount is automatically triggered by state law in Alabama if the margin of victory is 0.5 percent or less. Moore lost by a margin of 1.5 percent, according to The New York Times, which is well above that threshold. However, the law allows the loser to call for a recount within 48 hours if the margin of victory is close to 0.5 percent. In that case, the law stipulates that Moore would have to pay for it, although he would be refunded if the recount led to the election results being overturned.

According to Alabama state law:

The petitioner must be prepared to pay the cost of the recount and shall give security to cover these costs. The canvassing authority shall set the amount of the security based upon an estimate of actual costs. ... The costs shall be kept to a minimum by using county personnel or volunteer workers whenever possible. However, the recount must be conducted under the supervision of a trained and certified precinct election official. Representatives of opposing interests shall be given at least 24 hours' notice and shall be invited to participate in the recount.

Alabama's recount laws have already been in the spotlight this week. Just hours before polls opened, the state's Supreme Court halted a lower court's decision that mandated the preservation of electronic voting records. Paper ballots must be kept for 22 months following an election in Alabama, but the electronic images of those ballots can be deleted. Electronic copies are typically what's used to conduct a recount.

"People think that when they mark the ballots and they go into the machine that that's what counted," Priscilla Duncan, the attorney who fought for the preservation of the electronic ballots, told AL.com. "But it's not, the paper ballot is not what's counted. That ballot is scanned and they destroy [the ballots] after the election. ... If there's ever an election challenge you need to have what was actually counted."

Duncan told the newspaper that destroying electronic copies of ballots makes it easier to hack voting records. She expressed particular concern about this possibility because "the Department of Homeland Security notified our Secretary of State here that Alabama is one of the 21 states that had been targeting for hacking of election systems."

John Sebes, a technology officer Open Source Election Technology Institute, suggested to AL.com that keeping both electronic and physical copies of ballots is useful so that they may be compared to make sure no fraud or machine errors occurred.

It remains to be seen whether Moore actually will call for a recount; again, he would have to front those costs. According to Reuters, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill suggested on Tuesday night that the election results won't be certified until at least Dec. 26, and added that anything other than Jones being certified at that time would be "highly unlikely."