With accusations surrounding Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore concerning four alleged sexual encounters with underaged women that took place in 1979, it’s natural that Republicans such as Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) are calling on Moore to withdraw from the race if the allegations are correct.
Other Republicans chimed in later, including majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Moore’s fellow Alabama Republican, Richard Shelby.
With Republican senators making such public statements, it’s a natural question as to whether Alabama’s Republican Party could choose a different candidate for the Dec. 12 general election against Democrat Doug Jones. But could Alabama drop Moore and bring back Luther Strange, the primary runner-up, or another Republican candidate?
In a word, the answer is no. The full answer, however, is much more complicated.
What Does The Law Say?
Alabama law does allow for candidates to be removed from the ballot in municipal elections, but in a general election for a state office, such as the House of Representatives, United States Senate or governor of Alabama, the state requires that a candidate give 76 days notice in order to remove himself or herself from the ballot and be replaced by another candidate. The Alabama special election will take place on Dec. 12, which means that Moore would have had to be withdrawn or disqualified by Sept. 27 to be replaced.
What if the Republicans Tried to Replace Him Anyway?
It wouldn’t do them much good. Alabama law says that if a candidate is removed after the deadline, it will not print new ballots, meaning Moore’s name would stay on the ballot. However, as a double-edged sword, the state would not count a single vote for Moore in that case, meaning Jones would essentially be running unopposed for the seat.
If the Republican Party chose to remove Moore anyway and handed the seat to Jones, they’d be cutting their own majority in the Senate to 51 to 49, meaning that their margin for error on bills that need a simple majority would be down to just two Republican senators.
Do Republicans Have Any Real Options Other Than Staying With Moore?
Yes. The reason that replacing Moore wouldn’t do them much good as opposed to not doing any good is that there is one wrinkle. Alabama is one of eight states in the nation that allows voters to write in any name they want for general elections and have it counted by the state election board.</a
In theory, Alabama’s Republican Party could choose to drop Moore from the ballot and nominate another candidate, most likely Luther Strange. They would then need to mount a write-in candidate, similar to the one that Lisa Murkowski successfully ran in Alaska in 2010.
In order to make that work, however, Republicans would need to make sure that they got the message out to voters to write in Strange. They would also run the risk of angering a vocal base of Alabama Republicans who supported Moore in the primaries and might not be happy about seeing the man who won the primary election shoved off the ballot by the state party. Such an outcome could toss the election to Jones.
Has This Happened Before?
The closest parallels to this both occurred in Missouri. In 2000, Democratic candidate Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash three weeks before the election for United States Senator, leaving Missouri voters choosing between Republican John Ashcroft and Carnahan’s widow, who was appointed by the Missouri governor. Jean Carnahan won the election with her husband’s name on the ballot.
Twelve years later, Republicans had candidate Todd Akin land in hot water with a comment about the female body shutting down in and preventing pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape”. Although Akin could have been replaced on the ballot, he refused to drop out and the Missouri Republican Party did not step in to remove him. Akin lost by 15 points to current senator Claire McCaskill.