MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Still-uncounted ballots are unlikely to change the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Alabama enough to spur an automatic recount, the state's election chief said Wednesday.
Republican Roy Moore has refused to concede Tuesday's race to Democrat Doug Jones, who pulled off a stunning upset in what is normally a reliably Republican-leaning state.
"Realize, when the vote is this close, it is not over," Moore told supporters at his election-night party in Montgomery.
Jones is leading Moore by about 20,000 votes, or about 1.5 percent, with all precincts counted.
A 2003 Alabama law triggers an automatic recount when the winner's margin of victory is less than half of 1 percent. Jones' margin is currently about three times that threshold. To obtain an automatic recount, lingering ballots — such as those mailed in by military personnel — would first have to significantly reduce Jones' margin of victory, Secretary of State John Merrill said.
"It would be very unlikely for that to occur," Merrill said.
There are three types of votes yet to be counted that could somewhat alter the margin between Jones and Moore: the ballots from military personnel and other overseas voters; provisional ballots that have to be reviewed to ensure they are valid; and write-in votes. Write-in votes are counted only if they exceed the difference between the first- and second-place candidates, which in this case they do. There are approximately 22,000 write-in ballots.
The secretary of state will tell counties Monday whether write-in votes must be tabulated. On Tuesday, counties will count those, if necessary, along with the provisional ballots and overseas ballots.
The state canvassing board will declare whether an automatic recount is needed, when it meets sometime between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3. The recount would begin within 72 hours of that decision.
According to the nonpartisan elections group FairVote, statewide recounts are rare, and reversals even rarer. Statewide recounts between 2000 and 2015 resulted in an average margin swing of 282 votes between the front-runners, according to a report from the group.
At least one fellow Republican who knows what it's like to lose an election urged Moore to accept Jones' win.
"Roy Moore won't concede; says will wait on God to speak," former Arkansas Gov. and unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted. "God wasn't registered to vote in AL but the ppl who voted did speak and it wasn't close enough for recount. In elections everyone does NOT get a trophy. I know first hand but it's best to exit with class."
Alabama lawmakers passed the seldom-used recount law in 2003, following an election dispute between then-Gov. Don Siegelman and Republican challenger Bob Riley. The law also was invoked in 2004 when a proposal to delete unenforceable segregationist language from the state constitution narrowly failed.