- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2002

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) With a 3,000-vote deficit and the Republican attorney general blocking his request for a recount, Gov. Donald Siegelman may be running out of options to stay in office.
Attorney General Bill Pryor issued an opinion Friday telling county election officials not to unseal ballots from Tuesday's election. Vote totals certified statewide Friday showed Republican challenger Rep. Bob Riley ahead of Mr. Siegelman, the Democrat, by 3,117 votes.
"You can't break the seal based on not liking the count," Mr. Pryor said in an opinion awaited by elections officials across Alabama.
In response, Siegelman campaign spokesman Rip Andrews said: "The bottom line is it's a Republican conspiracy at its worst."
It wasn't immediately clear whether the governor would go to court to try to force a recount or take the issue before the Legislature, which doesn't convene until January.
Mr. Siegelman demanded a recount Thursday. He pointed in particular to Baldwin County, where elections officials reduced his tally by about 7,000 votes late Tuesday enough to give Mr. Riley the victory.
The county blamed a glitch in its computer system for the revision. The first-term governor said the switch was made after poll workers left for the night.
If the county's initial figures were correct, however, it would mean the total number of votes recorded in the governor's race was greater than the number of people who voted. It also would mean that almost 3,000 people in the county voted for governor but not for U.S. senator a figure far out of line with other county vote-total figures.
Mr. Siegelman's attorney, Joe Espy, accused the attorney general of ignoring state regulations that provide for a recount. He said the governor won't give up on seeking a recount, but he hasn't decided what his next action will be.
Mr. Riley and his attorneys praised Mr. Pryor's decision. "Attorney General Bill Pryor is doing constitutionally what he is supposed to so," said Terry Butts, Mr. Riley's lawyer.
Alabama law does not provide for an automatic recount in tight races, but voters can ask for one, county by county, if they put up a bond to pay for it. Democratic supporters began filing recount petitions across the state Friday, with Mr. Siegelman's campaign or the Democratic Party offering to pay for the bonds if necessary.
However, elections officials were advised by Secretary of State Jim Bennett to wait for Mr. Pryor's opinion in part to "avoid the situation that arose in Florida," referring to the hotly contested 2000 presidential election in that state. Alabama has never had a statewide recount, and some of its election laws date to the 1800s.
Mr. Pryor said the governor's petitions aren't sufficient to unseal the ballots and other election records. He said Mr. Siegelman could get the ballots opened under only two scenarios:
If 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 a contest in January, when it convenes to certify the final voting results.
If he gets a judge to order a 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," Mr. Pryor said. The crime is a misdemeanor.

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