Alabama elects Doug Jones over Roy Moore for Senate


Doug Jones defeated embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore to become Alabama’s first Democratic senator in 20 years. The Associated Press projected him the winner about 10:35 p.m. on the night of the count.

The closely watched election was decided by less than two percentage points, according to The New York Times election coverage, which put Jones ahead 49.9 percent to 48.4 percent. Moore has refused to concede the election and will wait until all of the votes are counted.

NBC News streamed Moore’s comments: “It’s not over. We still gotta go by the rules,” the former judge told a room full of his supporters.

ABC News on Twitter

Roy Moore: “Realize when the vote is this close, it is not over. We’ve still got to go by the rules about this recount provision.” https://t.co/3ucYMNGgjD https://t.co/RtC5h4OY6C

President Donald J. Trump did not seem to share Moore’s optimism. At 11:08 p.m., Trump tweeted congratulations to Jones. Trump fully supported Moore in a tweet the morning of the election, saying that he was needed to support the Republican agenda. “Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE”.

Donald J. Trump on Twitter

Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!

Why this election was different

  • Moore was ahead by a comfortable margin, local publication AL.com reported before a Washington Post investigation revealed that Moore made sexual advances towards a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30’s. At least seven additional women have reported similar encounters with Moore when they were teenagers.
  • Moore was suspended from the Alabama state Supreme Court in 2004 and in 2015 for refusing to uphold federal law. 
  • This Senate race is a “special election” because it is scheduled outside of the conventional  six-year terms a senator is given. Jones will replace Jeff Sessions, who left office halfway through his fourth term to serve as the country’s attorney general.

(Read More about the build-up to the election and why this election matters.)

Implications 

The Republican party now holds a 51-49 majority in the Senate. Controversial legislation and appointments typically require at least 60 votes in order to overcome a filibuster from the opposing party. There are certain Senate actions, however, that can be passed with a simple majority. 

  • Tax Reform: Republican Senators are trying to pass their tax bill under a rule known as reconciliation, a special budgetary procedure that lets legislation pass with a simple majority. Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie vote. One of the reforms in the GOP tax bill is a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to either 20 or 21 percent.
    • Trump tweeted that a Roy Moore victory is needed to pass tax reform legislation.
    • AL.com reported that Doug Jones indicated opposition to the GOP’s tax plan while at a rally:  “I don’t care about the wealthiest in this country getting huge tax cuts … while the poor suffer.” 
  • Judicial Appointments: The Senate can approve lower federal judges with a simple majority. The filibuster no longer applies to these appointments since the Democrats used what is known as the “nuclear option” when they controlled the Senate under President Barack Obama.
  • Supreme Court: No Supreme Court Justices have indicated that they will retire. But if one were to die, as did Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, the Republican-led Senate could approve a replacement with a simple majority .
    • The Democrats used the nuclear option for lower federal judges, but left the filibuster in place for Supreme Court nominations. This changed not long after Trump took the White House in 2016. McConnell employed the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominations in April, allowing the Senate to approve Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch without any Democratic votes.

Allegations of voter suppression 

  • Liberal commentators, such as this opinion columnist in The New York Times, speculated that the special election was tainted by suppression of African-American votes. Alabama requires voters to present photo identification to cast a ballot, such as a driver’s license. However, Alabama made budgetary cuts in 2015 that resulted in the closure of 31 Department of Motor Vehicle offices, which is where Americans obtain those licenses. The closures affect counties with large non-white populations, according to a columnist from the local publication, AL.com.
    • The 2015 decision to close the offices was met with criticism from then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as reported by CNN. Clinton referred to the move as a “blast from the Jim Crow past.”
    • Gov. Robert Bentley stated that the closures were purely based on budgetary reasons, not political motives, AL.com reported. He said that Alabamians could still vote with state ID cards, which can be obtained at county offices. These government buildings were unaffected by the 2015 budgetary cuts.  
    • The Alabama state law requiring photo ID was not implemented until 2014, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was initially passed to prevent Southern states from making it difficult for African-Americans to vote. One provision of the law required states with a history of racial discrimination, including Alabama, to receive federal approval before they could change their voting laws. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that these federal requirements were no longer necessary. Chief Justice John Roberts stated in his opinion that voter suppression is no longer widespread, and encouraged Congress to pass new legislation that “speaks to current conditions.”

Further reading

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