Politics

Anecdotal Evidence Points to Heavy Alabama Turnout

Top elections official in a Republican stronghold thinks the Senate voter participation could double the primary numbers

To paraphrase Alabama journalist and author Rick Bragg, soon it will be all over but the countin’.

The end comes in a matter of hours in an expensive, hotly contested special election to finish the last two years of former Sen. Jeff Sessions’ Senate term. He stepped down to become attorney general in the Trump administration.

Early polling place reports suggest turnout might exceed the 20 to 25 percent prediction of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill for the contest that pits Republican Roy Moore against Democrat Doug Jones.

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“We’re doing better than that in Baldwin,” Baldwin County Probate Judge Tim Russell, the top elections official in the county outside Mobile, told LifeZette. “I think we’re going to hit 35 or 40 [percent] … We’ve had good turnout in every precinct. I’ve been to some big ones. I’ve been to some small ones.”

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That would double the turnout for the primary in August.

Russell thinks Jones might take 45 percent of the vote in the county, which would be a stunning result for a Democrat in that GOP stronghold.

“I’ve never seen in my home county a race that had so much emotion on both sides,” he said.

Typically, general elections are sleepy affairs in overwhelmingly red Alabama. The last Democrat to win a Senate race is not even a Democrat anymore. Sen. Richard Shelby prevailed in a re-election bid in 1994 — two years before switching to the GOP.

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Sessions was re-elected without either primary or general election opposition in 2014.

But the past two years in American politics have been anything but typical.

A combination of highly energized opposition Democrats and a flawed, controversial Republican candidate transformed Alabama into a battleground state — at least for this contest. Moore, whose opposition to the federal judiciary led to his ouster from active service during two separate stints as Alabama Supreme Court justice, has underperformed other Republicans in previous elections.

Despite the baggage, most experts still considered Moore the favorite against Democrat Doug Jones, until The Washington Post a little more than a month ago published a story quoting a woman accusing him of making a sexual advance toward her in the 1970s — when she was 14 and he was 32. Three other women said Moore showed a romantic interest in them during the same time period when they were barely older than the legal age of consent.

Later, other women came forward to accuse Moore of acting inappropriately toward them.

“I’ve never voted for Roy Moore. But I’m voting for him today … Mine is kind of a protest vote against the media and the way it covered this.”

Moore has denied all the allegations, but they clearly reshaped this race. Most recent polls heading into election day put Moore in the lead, but a Fox News survey released Monday suggested Jones had a lead of 10 percentage points.

Russell said a local school tax renewal may help boost turnout in his county. But anecdotal evidence throughout the state also points to voter enthusiasm. William Stewart, a longtime University of Alabama political scientist, said he stood in line to vote Tuesday morning at a polling place north of Tuscaloosa.

“It certainly attracted more interest than a typical special election,” he told LifeZette.

That contrasts sharply with the special election primary held in August, Stewart said.

“There was no line at all … So, it’s much more than the earlier primary vote,” he said.

Jones, a former U.S. attorney under President Bill Clinton, appeared glad the race was over when he talked to reporters after casting his vote in a Birmingham suburb.

“I’m certainly relieved, but you know, look, we expected a tough campaign,” he said. “Quite frankly, I think that with all that could have been said and done, I don’t think it has been as bad as it could have been.”

Moore arrived to his polling place on horseback, as he has during past races. He brushed aside questions from reporters about whether he would face an effort in the Senate to remove him over the sexual misconduct allegations.

“We’ll take those problems up when we get to the Senate, when we win,” he said.

Related: Poll Hints That Registering Alabama Felons Could Help Moore, Backfire on Jones

Brent Buchanan, an Alabama Republican political consultant, said the odds of a Jones victory improve if turnout exceeds 1.1 million. If it crosses the 1.2 million mark, then it gets bleaker for Moore, Buchanan said.

“I think that the race is a dead heat,” he said. “I didn’t think that was the case several weeks ago. But I think it’s tightened up.”

But Dale Jackson, a radio talk-show host in Huntsville, said the sexual abuse allegations against Moore cut both ways. He said a number of voters who are not crazy about Moore for other reasons consider the late campaign allegations unfair.

“There are people like me,” he said. “I’ve never voted for Roy Moore. But I’m voting for him today … Mine is kind of a protest vote against the media and the way it covered this.”

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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