Controversy continues to brew between the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and the Alabama GOP after a non-registered voter’s ballot was allowed to be counted, ultimately leading to a tied State Senate race.

The Alabama Republican Party’s Steering committee held a hearing on Saturday and made the decision on the challenged State District 27 race. The race between incumbent Sen. Tom Whatley and Auburn City Councilmember Jay Hovey was declared as a tie.

The hearing was held after Hovey had a one-vote lead over Whatley in the May 24 Republican primary. Whatley originally contested the race, but after he withdrew that contest, the ALGOP set a hearing on the matter.

Those in attendance at the hearing told 1819 News that the committee heard arguments from both sides before making the decision.

“The Alabama Republican Party was presented information from both sides at the hearing on Saturday and made their final decision based on the information provided to them by both parties,” said ALGOP Chairman John Wahl.

It was determined an uncounted provisional ballot in favor of Whatley put the race in a tie, and a tiebreaker would have to decide the winner.

Committee members said the vote should have been counted after the voter tried numerous times to register to vote and thought she was registered when she went to the polls with her husband. Although her husband was registered and was able to vote, the woman’s vote was not initially counted. The couple had moved from Georgia, where they were consistent Republican voters, according to sources, but the wife was unable to obtain a driver’s license through ALEA. She told the committee she had tried four times to get paperwork completed by ALEA and thought she had done her due diligence but was later informed she was not registered to vote. At least two committee members told 1819 News they believed the woman should’ve been allowed to vote but that because of “government” her ballot was marked as provisional.

ALEA released a statement on Sunday, after the hearing, saying it conducted a thorough investigation into allegations the voter was wrongfully excluded from an official vote because of an error made on its part.

“The enquiry discovered the individual in question possesses a driver's license issued by the State of Georgia,” ALEA said in a statement. “It also revealed the individual visited the ALEA Driver License Office in Opelika to obtain an Alabama Driver’s License. However [the individual} did not complete an issuance transaction and was never issued an Alabama Driver's License. The individual still holds a current Georgia Driver's License.

“Voter registration information from ALEA’s Driver License Division is only sent after the credential is issued and the customer signs the required voter declaration, which did not occur in this specific incident.”

The information released by ALEA Sunday was not presented to the committee on Saturday, according to multiple sources who attended the hearing.

The woman behind the vote, Patsy Kenney, came forward this week to "set the record straight." Here is an explanation from Kenney:

I went to the DMV in Lee County with my husband on April 28, 2022. One of the first questions that we were asked was: Did we want to register to vote? Of course we said yes. Voting has been very important to me since my father first took me to register to vote when I became legal age. After the vision exam, the clerk told me I needed to get a form signed by my eye doctor before I could get my driver’s license. But before I left, she went ahead and took all of my information—my name, my address, and everything else, and put it into her computer system. At no time did she explain to me that she was no longer registering me to vote. I did everything I was supposed to do.

I understood I needed to come back with a form signed by my eye doctor to pick up my driver’s license, and I intend to do that after my eye appointment, which is scheduled in July. But I had no idea my voter registration wasn’t processed. No one told me you had to have a driver’s license to register to vote. I am even more confused because I received my voter registration card after the election, and I was able to vote in the Republican run-off election last week. I just took my Georgia license to the polls, along with my voter registration card and a copy of my power bill. I just found out that I can get a non-driver voter ID from the State of Alabama, so I guess I will have to get one of those until I can get my driver's license.

Secretary of State John Merrill said although the non-registered voter’s ballot is being counted, once the primary election is over, his hands are tied.

“We don’t need to [do anything], don’t have to,” Merrill said. “We’ve already done our part. This is a party matter.”

The ALGOP has the power to decide whether contested votes in a primary can be counted or not. That power is given by state law (Section 17-13-72).

Even Hovey said he understood the importance of having evidence presented when a vote comes into question.

“Certainly, every vote is important and it’s unfortunate if anyone is mistaken that they are registered to vote,” Hovey wrote to the Montgomery Advertiser.

1819 News has contacted an attorney that has been involved in the case, but that attorney was unwilling to provide a statement.

The ALGOP is currently working with both candidates to determine a date and location for the tiebreaker. It will likely be determined by a coin toss. Once that has been established, members of the media will be notified.

Senate District 27 includes portions of Lee, Tallapoosa, and Russell counties.

The eventual Republican nominee will face Democrat Sherry Reese in the Nov. 8 general election.

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