Political watchers figured the contest for the Republican nomination in State Senate District 27 to be competitive, but as it stands now, it will be one of the more bizarre state senate contests in Alabama political history.
Headed into Tuesday, Auburn City Councilman Jay Hovey clung to a four-vote lead over State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn), with the provisional ballots still left to be counted. But after the counting of those provisional ballots, the race got even closer.
In Senate District 27, those voters who cast provisional ballots would decide the final outcome of the race.
According to original reporting by the Auburn-Opelika News’ Lauren Johnson, 15 provisional ballots were accepted in SD27. Whatley beat Hovey on provisional ballots in Lee County six to four and three to two in Tallapoosa County. There were no SD27 provisional ballots accepted in SD27 in Russell County.
When the provisional ballots were finally counted on Tuesday, Whatley was "unofficially" defeated by Hovey by one vote - 8,373 for Hovey and 8,372 for Whatley.
A provisional ballot is offered when a voter shows up at the polls and for some reason is not on the voter list at the polling place where they appear or there is some sort of a problem with their photo ID. They are still allowed to vote, but their ballot is provisional and is not run through the voting machines on election day. Election officials with the county board of registrars then do an investigation to determine if the voter is or is not a registered voter in the county. Those that are not rejected are counted.
The contentious race featured Whatley outspending Hovey by a more than 12-to-1 margin, with Whatley spending $1.2 million to Hovey's $94,000.
Hovey also got a boost with apparent support from State Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) and his wife, Jenifer.
Once the Republican Party sends the results to Secretary of State John Merrill to be certified, Whatley has 48 hours to request a recount at a reported cost of $4,000.
Under Alabama law, primary voters declare their party affiliation on the day of the primary, making the GOP primary open to all voters, including traditionally Democrat voters.
The rules change in a runoff situation. A Democrat primary voter cannot vote in a Republican primary runoff or vice-versa.
State Senate District 27 includes portions of Lee, Tallapoosa and Russell Counties. In last week's contest, Whatley dominated in Tallapoosa and Russell Counties but was soundly defeated in the Lee County portion, which has seen its partisan lean drift toward the Democratic Party with the unprecedented growth of Auburn, home to Auburn University.
Insiders also tell 1819 News that Whatley was believed to have been dealt a disadvantage in redistricting, having lost portions of Tallapoosa County near Alexander City, where he had traditionally done well.
Whatley arrived in the Alabama State Senate during the 2010 wave that gave Republicans control of the State House for the first time since Reconstruction. He defeated longtime Democrat incumbent State Sen. Ted Little (D-Auburn), who had served in the Alabama Senate for a total of 32 years.
Whatley moved up through the ranks to eventually earn the Senate Judiciary Committee chairmanship after then-chairman State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) resigned to assume Gov. Kay Ivey's appointment to lead the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. His departure would mean a new chairman for one of the Alabama Senate's most powerful committees.
Hovey fended off Whatley's charges of being a "liberal" throughout the campaign, noting Whatley served as chief of staff for former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, one of the last Democrats to win a statewide election in Alabama.
If Hovey is officially awarded the Republican nomination, he will face Democrat nominee Sherri Reese in the November election.
1819 News Lead Reporter Brandon Moseley contributed to this report.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email jeff.poor@1819News.com.
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