Just when you thought that the seemingly endless Senate race in Alabama was over, the candidate who was long expected to win it has announced that it isn’t. After Republican Roy Moore’s campaign chairman took to the lectern to assure the candidate’s supporters that declarations of victory for Democrat Doug Jones were premature, Moore himself stepped up to do the same. “When the vote is this close . . . it’s not over,” Moore said. Why? Well, if a race is within half a percentage point after all the votes are tallied, an automatic recount is triggered which could conceivably flip the result. And with a narrow Jones lead and military ballots still needing to be counted, Moore assured the crowd that some miracle still might happen.
Alabama secretary of state John Merrill was less sanguine when talking to CNN’s Jake Tapper a short while later. Merill walked through the various reasons that a recount was unlikely and, even if it happened, that the result was unlikely to change. A walk-through that we will now recreate.
Let’s start with the numbers, as of midnight on Dec. 13. Jones has 671,151 votes and Moore 650,436. That’s 49.9 percent of the vote for Jones and 48.4 percent for Moore — because 22,819 voters wrote in someone else.
Quick math shows us that 49.9 percent minus 48.4 percent is 1.5 percentage points, three times the margin that would be required to trigger an automatic recount. The vote was close, as Moore said, but when the vote is that close, 1.5 percentage points close, the state actually thinks it is over. Merrill noted that either candidate could call for a recount regardless — but that candidate would then have to foot the bill.