MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman demanded a statewide recount in Alabama's disputed gubernatorial election Thursday, saying the outcome is so close it needs a second look.
According to unofficial returns, Siegelman trails Republican Rep. Bob Riley by 3,195 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast.
The governor, at a brief news conference, said he wanted a recount in every precinct in every county. In Baldwin County, a GOP stronghold where a revised vote shifted the statewide outcome from Siegelman to Riley, the governor said he wanted a "recount by hand."
The race is the nation's last undecided governor's campaign.
Alabama does not have a law providing for an automatic recount in tight races. However, voters can seek a recount if they put up a bond to pay for it; a statewide recount would require a voter to take that step in each of Alabama's 67 counties.
Siegelman said the tally is so close that a shift of 1,500 votes could be the difference. He said it is vital residents know their vote has been "fairly counted."
"I will live by the results and I would hope Bob Riley would do the same," Siegelman said.
After the governor's announcement, Riley spokesman Leland Whaley said: "We're confident in our totals. We won by over 3,000 votes."
Earlier, Riley said he was against a recount and that official certification is all that is needed.
"It's been tallied ... It's going to be tallied again. Why would he want to put the people of Alabama through any type of challenge now?" said Riley.
A Riley attorney, Matt Lembke, said the recount Siegelman requested is illegal because state law prohibits the ballots from being unsealed except in "very limited" circumstances. He did not elaborate what circumstances would allow a recount.
Siegelman, 56, is trying to win a second term and post a rare Democratic victory in the South after the GOP won governor's races in Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas on Tuesday.
Riley, 58, a three-term congressman, has criticized Siegelman as the overseer of "the most corrupt administration in my adult lifetime."
Baldwin County took center stage when election officials released results Tuesday night showing Siegelman with 19,070 votes — enough for a narrow victory statewide. Later, they recounted and reduced Siegelman's tally to 12,736 votes — enough to give Riley the victory.
Probate Judge Adrian Johns, a member of the county canvassing board, blamed the initial, higher number on "a programming glitch in the software" that tallies the votes. The governor claimed results were changed after poll watchers left.
Both candidates declared victory. While Siegelman toured tornado damage Thursday, Riley met with trustees at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to discuss his transition.
Joe Espy, head of Siegelman's legal team, said the campaign had lined up a voter in each county to seek a recount Friday, and the campaign or the Democratic Party will post the bond required under state law. If the recount alters the results of the election, the bond is returned and the county bears the cost of the recount.
Espy said Siegelman would not file any litigation over the election. "I do not believe the people of this state will stand for the courts getting involved in this election," he said.
Attorney General Bill Pryor, a Republican, said a recount in Baldwin County would not help the governor. He said the first numbers — the ones that gave Siegelman the victory — add up to more than the actual number of voters.
"It looks like we've got a new governor," added Chuck Grainger, attorney in the secretary of state's office.
Also, an Associated Press analysis of disputed election returns show that if Siegelman received 19,070 votes in Baldwin County, the county's vote totals would be far out of line with voting patterns in Alabama's other 66 counties. But if Siegelman received the lower figure of 12,736 votes, the total would be in keeping with the trend in other counties. The AP analysis was based on a comparison of vote totals for governor and for senator in each county.
Baldwin County certified its revised tally Wednesday. Siegelman complained it acted too swiftly, saying state law sets certification for Friday.
Pryor said even though the law specifies Friday, canvassing boards should certify the results on the same day and time they have used in the past.
It wasn't immediately known if Baldwin County has certified votes the day after an election in the past.
A professor who studied voting systems nationwide in the wake of the 2000 presidential debacle in Florida called Baldwin County's 6,334-vote adjustment against Siegelman "huge" for a county using optical scanning machines.
"This is very unusual," said Stephen Ansolabehere, a political scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he cast doubt on any deliberate mischief.
"You'd have to have someone throw away 6,000 ballots," he said.
More election trouble cropped up Thursday when Mobile County officials discovered 187 absentee ballots they hadn't counted. The counting began Wednesday afternoon.