State officials will check the news for amendment vote results tonight
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Sep 18, 2012 | 5407 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Today’s $437 million budget amendment vote has lawmakers and some state officials on the edge of their seats.

But workers at the Secretary of State’s office – the agency charged with toting up the vote statewide – will go home two hours before the polls close. And they won’t have an official count until Wednesday morning at the earliest.

“It’s the norm to rely on the Associated Press, rather than on us, for election-night results,” said Emily Thompson, deputy secretary of state.

Polls across the state are open right now, as Alabamians vote on a constitutional amendment that would transfer $437 million from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state General Fund over the next three years. The Alabama Trust Fund is a repository for the state’s revenues from fees on oil and gas drilling. The General Fund – one of the state’s two budgets – will come up more than $100 million short without the transfer.

Time is of the essence. If the amendment fails, lawmakers will have less than two weeks to find a solution before the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year.

But because the election is a statewide matter, without any federal races on the ballot, the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t have the federal funding it typically uses to stay open on election night. That means the agency won’t post live election results tonight, the way they have done in recent election cycles. Most employees were expected to go home at 5 p.m.

“The law doesn’t actually charge us with producing election results on election night,” Thompson said.

Election results usually aren’t official until they’re certified by a public body. That process can take a long time – days or weeks after the initial vote.

But in recent years, Alabama has followed a nationwide trend toward posting preliminary, county-by-county numbers online on the night of the election. Those numbers always come with the caveat that they’re not yet certified, yet they stand as the most official set of numbers available on election night.

Without funding for that late-night work, Thompson said, the Secretary of State’s office plans to keep one worker on call to answer election questions until the polls close.

Counties will be able to electronically submit their results to the Secretary of State’s office tonight, said Julie Sinclair, elections attorney for the agency. But they won’t be added up until morning.

Some state officials say they’ll rely on the press to tell them who won tonight.

“I’ll be looking at the AP’s returns,” said Derek Trotter, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. “I’ve found in past elections that it’s the quickest way to get the results.”

Thompson noted that state officials have historically relied on AP for same-night results. She said the practice of posting live results on the Secretary of State’s website has been done only for two to four years, and she said the agency would like to be able to post live results with every vote.

“We know people like having this, and we’d like to do it more often,” she said.

It’s not unusual for candidates to rely on media projections on election night. Candidates in statewide and federal races sometimes deliver victory speeches after a projection from the AP – and before election officials complete preliminary results.

But when media projections are wrong, they can be wrong in a major way. Perhaps the most well-known case was in the 2000 presidential race, when some media outlets declared Al Gore the winner in Florida, a swing state – then changed their projections before the night ended.

Gore ultimately lost Florida, and the presidency, to George W. Bush.

But the margin in the Gore-Bush race for Florida was close, and it’s still too early to tell how the Alabama amendment vote will pan out.

Polls close at 7 p.m.

Assistant Metro Editor Tim Lockette: 256-235-3560. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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