MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Election officials began a statewide recount Monday after a measure to remove segregation-era language from the Alabama Constitution (search) was apparently rejected narrowly by the voters Nov. 2.
The proposed amendment would delete unenforced sections of the constitution that mandate racially segregated schools and allow poll taxes (search), once used to discourage blacks from voting.
The amendment failed by 1,850 votes out of 1.38 million cast -- a margin of 0.13 percent. State law calls for a recount when a ballot measure fails by less than one-half of a percentage point.
Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (search), said the recount will only increase damage to a state still struggling with its image as a civil rights battleground.
"The perception that is going out after that vote is setting us back 40 or 50 years," said Steele, a former state senator from Tuscaloosa.
The recount may not be completed until next week.
Election officials in most counties began feeding paper ballots by hand through electronic scanners to get a new count. Paper jams and malfunctions caused by crinkled ballots slowed the effort.
"It's just a cumbersome process," said Alan King, probate judge in Jefferson County, Alabama's largest.
Former state Republican Party Chairman Elbert Peters argued it was not lingering racism, but fears the measure would lead to court-ordered tax increases for public schools that led to its defeat.
"We're too concerned about the image of this state as compared to others," he said.
Alabama's constitution mandated separate schools "for white and colored children" and imposed poll taxes. After the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision banning school segregation (search), Alabama amended its constitution to say there is no constitutional right to an education at public expense.
But opponents -- including ousted Chief Justice Roy Moore (search), known for his fight to display the Ten Commandments in the state courthouse -- said they feared the possibility of a constitutionally guaranteed public education would prompt judges to mandate increased spending for schools.