MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama officials Thursday pushed aside a last-minute legal challenge from Republican Roy Moore and certified Democrat Doug Jones as the winner of this month's U.S. Senate election.
The action, during a brief meeting at the state Capitol, paves the way for the confirmation of the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in a quarter-century. It was also a swift rejection, by some of the state's most powerful Republicans, of Moore's complaint that he was the victim of "systematic voter fraud."
Jones' margin of victory was 21,924 votes with more than 1.3 million ballots cast.
The certification leaves Moore, 70, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court whose campaign was dealt a blow when allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, with almost no avenues to derail Jones' ascension to the Senate.
The election aftermath followed a familiar pattern for Moore, who in the past has been loath to concede defeats. To this day, Republicans note, Moore has not conceded his losses in the 2006 or 2010 Republican primaries for governor, and there is already speculation in Montgomery that he might run for governor or attorney general next year.
"You win with class, you lose with class, and he just can't do it," said Angi Horn Stalnaker, a Republican strategist who ran campaigns, with mixed success, against Moore.
On Thursday, Moore seemed to come close to acknowledging his loss.
"I have stood for the truth about God and the Constitution for the people of Alabama," he said in a statement. "I have no regrets. To God be the glory."
Before the results of the Dec. 12 special election were certified and in the candidate's statement afterward, Moore and his campaign left little doubt about their assessment of the vote.
In a lawsuit filed in a state court late Wednesday, Moore, who denied the allegations of sexual impropriety, complained that pervasive fraud had tainted the election and that Alabama authorities had inadequately investigated potential misconduct.
But Moore found himself aligned against Democrats and Republicans alike. Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican who voted for Moore, said he had found no evidence of endemic fraud and refused to postpone the certification. Judge Johnny Hardwick of Montgomery County Circuit Court, citing a lack of jurisdiction, dismissed Moore's complaint minutes before the vote was certified.
Jones, whose transition team had called the lawsuit "a desperate attempt by Roy Moore to subvert the will of the people," said in a statement that Jones' victory "marks a new chapter for our state and the nation."
Jones is a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for Birmingham's infamous 1963 church bombing.
Although the state ultimately certified the election results, Moore's litigation infused a strain of drama into a day that Alabama officials had hoped would be procedural and perfunctory. Moore's lawsuit was late in coming: His lawyers filed their lawsuit at 10:33 p.m. Wednesday. They announced it to reporters less than two hours later.
Early Thursday, Merrill's office said it would move ahead with the election certification unless ordered to do otherwise. The judge issued his order just after noon.
The complaint by Moore, a figure with a penchant for last-minute legal theatrics, was not altogether surprising. He and his allies have spent the past several weeks signaling their unease with the voting process, and, while saying little else publicly, Moore solicited contributions for an "election integrity fund."
Until Wednesday night, it was not clear what would come of his efforts. Then, in a court filing that ran for dozens of pages, Moore argued that returns in Jefferson County, the state's most populous, "confirmed election fraud." It also said that turnout in the county was suspiciously high; suggested that Jones had benefited from voter intimidation; and argued that Moore's opponents had spread "lies and fraudulent misrepresentations."
The complaint also recounts how the secretary of state investigated a video of a man saying people had traveled from "across the country" to help beat Moore -- but goes on to argue that the investigation was not transparent. The man in the video turned out to be a legal Alabama voter.
"That was all fictitious," Merrill said of the voter-fraud complaint after certifying the election. "It was made up; it was just a lie that started on the Internet."
To support his arguments, Moore included affidavits from several people his campaign described as experts in elections. They came to the case with baggage of their own.
One of them, James Condit Jr., has written and spoken about "Zionist" control of world politics and alleged a Jewish role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"The terror attacks of 9/11 were done by, in effect, Israeli agents," Condit said in a 2016 radio broadcast. "These Israeli/Zionist/Jewish agents that are in on this crime syndicate -- they did 9/11, covered it up with their five TV networks, which are run by the same crowd."
Richard Charnin, who provided the court with an argument that there was just enough possible fraud to swing the election, claimed to have "mathematically" proved a conspiracy behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In 2016, Charnin alleged that mass election fraud had stolen key Democratic primaries from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to the benefit of eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.
Experts unaffiliated with either the Jones or Moore campaigns quickly said the lawsuit's arguments appeared meritless.
"It seems to boil down to: I should have won under the exit poll and all of this voting by African-Americans must show fraud," Richard Hasen, an elections law expert at the University of California, Irvine, wrote on his blog.
Although the Alabama Republican Party, and many elected officials, stood behind Moore during his campaign, he had few influential allies by the time the certification meeting began at the Capitol. Party leaders, including President Donald Trump, who endorsed Moore, had called for him to concede.
Merrill said Moore has a few options left, such as offering to pay for a recount within 48 hours.
"I can say this. I don't think there is any doubt from the minds of anybody that's in the room that if there was ever a question about whether Alabama conducts honest, fair, safe and secure elections, that question has been eliminated," Merrill said.
Moore could conceivably ask the Senate, which has the constitutional authority to serve as "judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members," not to seat Jones. But Republican leaders in Washington have not signaled that they are likely to heed any such call.
But the final tally reflects Moore's enduring appeal to many Republicans in the state, and Moore's strength, diminished as it is, has fueled speculation about whether he will unsettle the state's politics next year.
A campaign for either governor or attorney general would involve challenging a Republican incumbent and would test just how weary and wary the party is of Moore, analysts said.
"On paper, he would be competitive in a Republican primary," said state Auditor Jim Zeigler, a Republican who supported Moore in the Senate election and is himself considering a run for governor. "But the campaign is not won or lost on paper, just like a football game. On paper, Alabama was going to beat Auburn, and it didn't happen."
Moore was twice elected -- and effectively twice removed -- as chief justice, and he would enter any 2018 race with some of the advantages that can come with decades in public life: name recognition and, likely, the sustained fealty of the devoted supporters who helped him earn more than 650,000 votes on Dec. 12.
But before the Senate race, many of Moore's critics regarded him as a bigot and a demagogue who cheered discrimination against gay people and Muslims. After the campaign, some of his critics also saw him as a predator toward younger women. And the coalition that sunk Moore's campaign -- young people, women and black voters in major cities and rural counties -- has not gone away.
The deadline for declaring a statewide candidacy for the governorship is Feb. 9.
Several of Moore's advisers, including his campaign's chairman and treasurer, did not respond to messages this week. But a former chief of staff to Moore, Ben Dupre, said Moore is "a guy that does not compromise."
"He doesn't take his orders from the Republican Party or the Democrat Party," said Dupre, who sometimes spoke for Moore during the campaign but ended his role soon after the election. "He really believes in following the Constitution and in following God and in following what he believes is his duty to God and to the country."
Information for this article was contributed by Alan Blinder of The New York Times; by David Weigel of The Washington Post; and by Kim Chandler of The Associated Press.
In this Dec. 11, 2017, file photo, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a campaign rally in Midland City, Ala.
Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Doug Jones greets supporters and voters outside Bethel Baptist Church Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore.
A Section on 12/29/2017
Print Headline: Moore vote challenge fails; Jones certified for Senate