The Alabama Republican Party on Friday announced that its candidates committee had reversed its earlier decision and voted to disqualify a disputed Tallapoosa County ballot. State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) had withdrawn his challenge prior to the meeting of the committee. This effectively makes Auburn City Councilman Jay Hovey the Republican nominee for State Senate District 27.
“Election security and making sure that every legal vote is properly counted is of paramount importance to the Alabama Republican Party,” the Alabama Republican Party said in a statement announcing that Hovey would be the nominee.
“The last twelve years have been fantastic,” Whatley said in a statement. “I have loved serving in the Alabama Senate. I have made lifelong friendships with many fantastic people. Hands down, the best thing about my Senate service has been speaking to an Auburn University class where I met my wife Lauren. We are thrilled to have recently welcomed our daughter, Laurel, into the world.”
Whatley maintains that he was defeated because over 400 normally Democratic primary voters voted in the Republican primary. Whatley believes that those Democratic voters overwhelmingly voted for Hovey. That issue was not considered by the committee because there is no party registration in Alabama; voters can lawfully vote in either major party primary, whether or not they have pledged to support that party’s general election candidates.
“I am a Republican,” Whatley reiterated. “I want to thank all my supporters and friends who have reached out to me during this process. I’ve been a delegate to the last three Republican conventions. I am the Republican nominee who was voted by Republicans in my district.”
The attempt by Whatley to overturn the primary election results has been widely criticized and led many to speculate that Whatley would be vulnerable in the Nov. 8 general election to Democrat Sherri Reese.
“With that said, I now believe that it is in the best interest of my friends, colleagues, family, and the Republican Party, for me to step away from this tied race so that we can move forward and have success in November,” Whatley concluded. “I am looking forward to spending some quality time with my wife and daughter, focusing on my law practice and other business interests. It has been the honor of a lifetime serving the people of Lee, Tallapoosa and Russell counties.”
The committee on Saturday had allowed the disputed ballot reportedly cast by Patsy Kenney to be counted, creating a tie between challenger Hovey and incumbent Whatley. Hovey was the winner of the official election results by just one vote. The provisional ballot had originally been rejected by Tallapoosa County election officials in the May 24 primary. The ALGOP candidates committee overruled the elections officials Saturday and declared that the race was actually a tie and should be decided by drawing lots.
On Monday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) released information about why the provisional ballot had been denied. Kenney had moved to Alabama from Georgia. According to ALEA, when Kenney went to get her driver's license and register to vote she was asked to get a vision test due to her diabetes in order to lawfully drive a motor vehicle in Alabama. She did not get the vision test or a non-driver voter ID before the deadline to register to vote in the May 24 primary, therefore she did not have the required voter identification needed to register to vote, which is why they denied her ballot access on election day and instead allowed her to vote on a provisional ballot. Since she was not a lawfully registered voter, election officials denied her provisional ballot a week later during the counting of the provisional ballots.
The ALGOP candidate committee did not have all of ALEA's information when they met on Saturday. On Wednesday, Hovey asked for a rehearing of the challenge based on the new information.
“This public statement from ALEA was not available to either party previously,” wrote Hovey’s attorney, Al Agricola. “On rehearing, the Committee should find that the provisional ballot in question was not due to be counted, and Hovey’s one-vote victory certified by the Chairman in the Senate District 27 primary election should be accepted as correct.”
That request for a rehearing was granted by ALGOP late Wednesday night and the Alabama Republican Party Candidate Committee held the re-hearing Friday.
“After deliberating on the matter, it is the decision of the Committee to vacate its earlier decision and to deny the Contest based on the new information,” the ALGOP said in a statement. “Councilman Jay Hovey is the Alabama Republican Party nominee in Alabama Senate District 27.
“Election security and making sure that every legal vote is properly counted is of paramount importance to the Alabama Republican Party. ALEA’s statement makes it clear that Mrs. Kenney was not registered to vote for the primary election. We believe in the rule of law, and that only legal votes should be counted.
“We also believe that the ability to vote is a sacred right and one that the Alabama Republican Party is committed to protecting and defending. The Candidate Committee did not want to discount Mrs. Kenney’s provisional ballot while there was any reasonable doubt that she could have actually been registered to vote. We believe that everyone deserves that respect.”
Kenney has threatened to challenge Alabama’s voter ID law in federal court if her vote is not counted.
Sen. Whatley withdrew his challenge early Friday morning approximately an hour ahead of the rehearing.
Whatley is a three-term incumbent and the Chairman of the powerful State Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We would like to thank Senator Whatley for his many years in the legislature on behalf of his district. His commitment to public service and our Party’s values are to be commended,” the Republican Party said.
“The election contest process is incredibly difficult for the Alabama Republican Party,” the ALGOP wrote. “We care about each of our candidates, and we want them all to be successful. The rulings in these cases took longer than some wanted, but we felt it critical that all sides had a chance to gather information and investigate what happened. The ALGOP Candidate Committee heard arguments from both sides of all cases, considered the information presented to it, and made its rulings based on what was set forth."
The Alabama Republican Party said that this election has brought up issues that may need to be addressed moving forward.
“This election cycle has revealed several areas of serious concern in the election process,” the ALGOP said. “These issues led to problems that hurt the Alabama Republican Party, our candidates, and our voters. We plan to work with lawmakers, the Secretary of State, Probate Judges, Boards of Registrars, and ALEA to find solutions to these problems and to make sure they don’t happen again. The ALGOP believes Alabama and our voters deserve better. We invite Councilman Hovey and Senator Whatley – as well as our other candidates – to join us in this effort.”
“This is not personal,” Republican insider and Republican Executive Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery) told 1819 News. “Both Tom and Jay are good men and I commend Tom for his years of service in the Senate, but this is about the principle that only valid votes be counted in any Alabama election. I commend Councilman Hovey for the hard-fought campaign and congratulate him on his victory.”
Hovey will now face Democratic nominee Sherri Reese in November.
“The Party looks forward to working with Councilman Hovey as he now turns his focus to the general election,” the ALGOP concluded. “The ALGOP is united and energized more than ever to take back our country this November.”
District 27 includes parts of Lee, Tallapoosa, and Russell Counties.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email brandon.moseley@1819News.com.
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