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Ala. vote certification doesn't quell dissent

©Associated Press
November 9, 2002

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman's demand for a statewide recount was halted Friday by the Republican attorney general, who said sealed ballots can't be opened simply because the governor doesn't like the results showing Republican Bob Riley won by 3,117 votes.

The attorney general's stand came as Alabama's 67 counties certified their votes, with the official results showing Riley with 672,222 and Siegelman with 669,105.

Siegelman's supporters started filing petitions in every county Friday morning seeking a recount, which would involve opening ballots that had been placed under seal after being counted Tuesday night.

Siegelman hoped a recount would erase Riley's roughly 3,000-vote lead out of more than 1.3-million votes cast, but most county officials did nothing while they awaited advice from Attorney General Bill Pryor.

Pryor issued an advisory opinion Friday afternoon saying that Siegelman's petitions aren't sufficient under state law to unseal the ballots and other election records.

"You can't break the seal based on not liking the count," he said.

Siegelman campaign spokesman Rip Andrews said, "The bottom line is it's a Republican conspiracy at its worst."

Siegelman attorney Joe Espy accused the attorney general of ignoring state regulations, approved by the Justice Department, that provide for a recount. "On behalf of Bob Riley, the Republican attorney general today changed the law," Espy said.

He said the governor won't give up on getting a recount, but he hasn't decided what his next action will be.

Riley and his attorneys praised Pryor's decision. "Attorney General Bill Pryor is doing constitutionally what he is supposed to so," said former Democratic Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts.

A switch of 7,000 votes in Baldwin County on Tuesday night, blamed on a computer glitch, put Riley in the statewide lead by a few thousand votes instead of Siegelman.

In Baldwin County, Siegelman demanded a hand recount of each ballot. But Republican District Attorney David Whetstone said all of Baldwin County's ballots would remain sealed, based on Pryor's advice.

Pryor said state election law is clear that Siegelman can get the sealed ballots opened only under two scenarios:

He files an election contest with the Legislature and shows that illegal ballots were counted or legal ballots weren't counted and they would change the results. The new Legislature would consider an election contest in January.

He gets a judge to order a limited recount in a county after finding that a voting machine or precinct did not make a report on election night.

"It is a crime to break a seal without following these procedures," Pryor said. The crime is a misdemeanor.

Some election records, such as voting precinct tally sheets, aren't placed under seal on election night and can be reviewed, Pryor said.

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