ALABAMA | 2002 | Governor
Partisan Late-Night recount Flipped the Election Electronically
Anomalous results, statistical analysis, whistleblowers, and political persecution suggest manipulation of the 2002 race for Alabama governor.
- Suspicious Results: Baldwin County reported an implausibly high total vote, with an inflated tally for Republican Bob Riley.
- Partisan Manipulation: Under the pretext of fixing a "programming glitch," Baldwin County Republicans adjusted the totals over night in private.
- Lost Votes: Democrat Don Siegelman's vote total was slashed by 6,000 votes, enough to cost him the election.
- Statistical Evidence: The final numbers produced in Baldwin County were still extreme compared to expected voting patterns: too high for Riley, too low for Siegelman.
- Conflict of Interest: The highly partisan Alabama Attorney General had a history of conflict with Siegelman, as well as ties to the Riley campaign. He quickly sealed the ballots to preempt a statewide recount.
- Political Persecution: Criminal investigations, widely considered fraudulent, were used to deter Don Siegelman from pursuing a recount and to derail his 2006 campaign.
- Corruption of Justice: Siegelman was eventually convicted on charges by partisan federal attorneys and a corrupt judge.
- Whistleblower: Dana Jill Simpson testified that Karl Rove coordinated the vendetta against Don Siegelman in conspiracy with Alabama officials and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The 2002 race for Alabama governor was the closest in the state’s history. Voters went to bed thinking Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman had retained his office. But something suspicious happened in Baldwin County.
Local election officials first announced an implausibly high vote total—30 percent higher than the previous election. Siegelman got 19,000 votes, and his Republican opponent Bob Riley got 31,000.
One red flag was that Riley received 10,000 more votes in Baldwin County than the Republican candidate had received there in 1998. Nowhere else in the state showed such a big bump for Riley. Even the gain in Riley's home county was only half the size of his jump in Baldwin County.
How did Riley get so many more votes?
In the middle of the night, a recount attended only by Republicans produced a second set of numbers. Riley’s votes were left unchanged, but Siegelman’s total dropped by more than 6,000, reversing his victory.
The size of the Siegelman discrepancy was suspicious—a one-third drop should always be investigated. Even accounting for the fact that Siegelman did worse in 2002 than in the previous election, his numbers in Baldwin County were an outlier statewide.
What actually happened during the secretive partisan recount?
The recount was conducted on the pretense of fixing a “programming glitch,” but no other races on the ballot were affected.
It should be impossible to produce two different sets of numbers when using computerized vote tabulation. When an anomaly like that happens, an audit of the system should be triggered.
As Auburn University sociologist James H. Gundlach writes in Loser Take All, “Computers do not accidentally produce different totals unless someone is controlling the computer.”
By analyzing the proportion of votes going to each candidate, Gundlach came to the following conclusion:
Someone was moving a little more than 3,000 Baldwin County votes from Siegelman to Riley by calculating a fifth of Siegelman’s votes in each voting district, rounding it to a whole number, adding the resulting value to Riley’s votes in that district and then subtracting that number from Siegelman’s vote.
The problem, Gundlach believes, is that instead of subtracting the votes from Siegelman, the shifted votes were accidentally added to both candidates, which would account for the suspiciously high total vote that was originally announced.
A recount of the paper ballots was the only way to be sure, but Alabama attorney general William Pryor quickly ordered the ballots sealed to preempt Siegelman’s right to a statewide recount.
Pryor was not a neutral party and should have recused himself from decisions relating to the 2002 election. He had been abusing his power as attorney general since 1998 by conducting a politically motivated criminal investigation of Siegelman.
Pryor's grudge stemmed in part from the fact that the governor had criticized his connections to the tobacco industry.
Pryor was deeply connected to the local and national Republican Party. His campaign managers in 1998 were Karl Rove and Bill Canary. (Bill Canary also served as campaign manager to Siegelman's opponent Bob Riley.)
According to whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican operative with the Riley campaign, Siegelman did not push for the recount because Riley’s team had used Pryor's investigation as a threat.
Before her testimony, Simpson’s house was burned down and her car run off the road.
Citizens in the Heart of Dixie may never know just how badly the election was stolen from Don Siegelman, but they can be sure that a partisan conspiracy corrupted democracy in their state, using technology and abuse of power to erode election integrity.
Computers don’t make the kind of errors and changes seen in Baldwin County on their own. A secure and accurate system should not allow access to code or procedures that can alter results.
Automatic recount laws have been strengthened since 2002, but Alabama still needs nonpartisan election administration and transparent voting technology.
“A Statistical Analysis of the Gubernatorial Vote in Baldwin County,” by James Gundlach, in Loser Take All, edited by Mark Crispin Miller.
“The Ordeal of Don Siegelman,” by Larisa Alexandrovna, in Loser Take All, edited by Mark Crispin Miller.
"Post-Election Alabama Is Seeing Double," Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post.
Thom Hartmann interviews former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.