MONTGOMERY, Ala. — 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 as Democratic victor Doug Jones urged Republican Roy Moore to concede.
Speaking during an afternoon news conference in Birmingham, Jones said a concession from Moore is the "right thing" to do, and that 'it's time to heal."
But Moore hasn't budged after a stunning loss in a reliably GOP state.
"Realize, when the vote is this close, it is not over," he told supporters at his election-night party in Montgomery late Tuesday. Moore did not make any public statements or appearances Wednesday.
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 after 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.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, was striking a conciliatory tone toward congressional Republicans after Moore's defeat.
Trump, who congratulated Jones on his win in a tweet late Tuesday, wrote in a post on Wednesday that Moore's loss "proved that we need to put up GREAT Republican candidates to increase the razor thin margins in both the House and Senate."
McConnell and Trump backed Moore's GOP rival, Sen. Luther Strange, in the September primary. Trump defended his pick in the primary, saying in a predawn tweet that "Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him."
"I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election," Trump wrote. "I was right!"
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has said the party needs "to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home."
Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for the latest details on the Alabama Senate election.