2002 Alabama gubernatorial election

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2002 Alabama gubernatorial election

← 1998 November 5, 2002 2006 →
  Governor Bob Riley (cropped).jpg Don Siegelman at Netroots Nation 2008 (cropped).jpg
Nominee Bob Riley Don Siegelman
Party Republican Democratic
Popular vote 672,225 669,105
Percentage 49.17% 48.95%

Alabama Gubernatorial Election Results by County, 2002.svg
County results
Riley:      40–50%      50–60%      60–70%
Siegelman:      40–50%      50–60%      60–70%      70–80%      80–90%

Governor before election

Don Siegelman

Elected Governor

Bob Riley

The U.S. state of Alabama held its 2002 election for governor on November 5. The race pitted incumbent Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat, against Representative Bob Riley, a Republican, and Libertarian nominee John Sophocleus.

The result was an extremely narrow victory for Riley. The certified results showed Riley with 672,225 votes to Siegelman's 669,105 (a difference of 3,120 votes, or 0.23% of the 1,367,053 votes cast). Sophocleus garnered 23,272 votes, and 2,451 votes were for write-in candidate. The close and controversial election was marked by high turnout.


Both of the principal contestants in the general election campaign faced primary-election opponents whose opposition turned out to be less than expected. The primaries were held on June 4, 2002.

Democratic Party[edit]



Democratic primary results[1]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Don Siegelman (incumbent) 331,571 76.17
Democratic Charles Bishop 80,193 18.42
Democratic Mark "Rodeo Clown" Townsend 9,890 2.27
Democratic Gladys Riddle 9,246 2.12
Democratic Blake W. Harper III 4,410 1.01
Total votes 435,310 100.00

Republican Party[edit]



Republican primary results[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bob Riley 262,851 73.53
Republican Steve Windom 63,775 17.84
Republican Tim James 30,871 8.64
Total votes 357,497 100.00


The closeness of the general election contest was reflected in its intensity and fervor. At one point in the campaign, a clash erupted between the two principal campaigns over disclosure of the identities of large contributors to the Riley campaign. President George W. Bush appeared in Alabama at a July event, and a private reception with a $50,000 admission was held to benefit the Riley campaign. Riley's campaign initially refused to identify the donors attending the event. Later, under pressure from the Siegelman campaign, Riley called on the national Republican Party, which had hosted the event, to release the names of donors.[3] The Riley campaign was subjected to editorial criticism when the voluminous reports released made it difficult to trace the sources of donations from the event to Riley.[4]

During the campaign, actor and National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston came to Alabama to campaign for Republican congressional candidates. While in the state, Heston released a written statement endorsing Siegelman, despite the fact that Riley had made a point of being seen in public with Heston. Spokesmen for both Riley and the Alabama Republican Party issued statements insinuating that Siegelman had taken advantage of Heston's recently diagnosed Alzheimer's disease to secure the endorsement. After a firestorm of criticism from the NRA and editorial pages, the Republican spokesmen apologized to Heston, but not to Siegelman.[5]

Riley received the endorsements of The Birmingham News,[6] the Mobile Press-Register, the Business Council of Alabama, and the Auburn University Trustee Improvement PAC, an alumni group which opposed Siegelman's choices for trustees at the school.[7] In addition to the NRA, Siegelman was endorsed by The Montgomery Advertiser, The Anniston Star, The Tuscaloosa News, and various labor groups, including the Alabama State Employees Association.[8] Siegelman was also endorsed by Alabama Education Association executive secretary Paul Hubbert, although the Association itself remained officially neutral.[9]

The campaign set new spending records for an Alabama gubernatorial race. Even before the final weeks of the campaign, the candidates had raised over $17,000,000. Riley, who raised and spent over twice the sum Siegelman raised, was primarily backed by business groups and insurance companies. Siegelman received substantial contributions from labor groups and affiliates of the Alabama Education Association. Both candidates were the beneficiaries of national party funding, and contributions from political action committees made donations to both candidates difficult to trace.[10]

Polls taken in the final days of the campaign reflected the eventual close outcome.[11]


2002 gubernatorial election, Alabama
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Bob Riley 672,225 49.17 +7.09
Democratic Don Siegelman (incumbent) 669,105 48.95 -8.97
Libertarian John Sophocleus 23,272 1.70 +1.70
Write-in 2,451 0.18 N/A
Total votes 1,367,053 100.00 N/A
Republican gain from Democratic

Results by congressional district[edit]

Despite winning 4 out of 7 congressional districts, Riley lost his old district by around 7% after it was redistricted to become more Democratic.[12]

District Bob Riley


Don Siegelman


1st 56.17% 41.91% Sonny Callahan (retiring)
2nd 54.11% 44.19% Terry Everett
3rd 45.82% 52.55% Bob Riley (retiring)
4th 49.76% 48.00% Robert Aderholt
5th 47.35% 50.06% Robert E. Cramer
6th 62.49% 35.53% Spencer Bachus
7th 26.24% 72.71% Earl Hilliard (retiring)

Aftermath controversy[edit]

Riley's victory was controversial, and caused many commentators to recall the Florida election recount of 2000.[13][14] Initial returns showed Riley narrowly losing to Siegelman. Siegelman gave a victory speech on election night, and the Associated Press initially declared him the winner.[15] However, officials in Baldwin County conducted a recount and retabulation of that county's votes after midnight, and after Democratic Party observers had gone home for the night.[16] Approximately 6,000 votes initially credited to Siegelman were either removed from the total or reassigned to Riley in the recount, turning the statewide result in Riley's favor.[17] Local Republican officials claimed the earlier returns were the result of a "computer glitch."[18] Democratic requests to repeat the recount with Democratic observers present were rejected by Alabama courts and then-Attorney General Bill Pryor. Siegelman and his supporters complained that these judges (and Pryor) were either elected as Republicans or appointed by Republican presidents.[19] After over a week of fights in courtrooms and in the media, Siegelman, on November 18, 2002, made a televised address, saying that, "I've decided that a prolonged election controversy would hurt Alabama, would hurt the very people that we worked so hard to help", and abandoned his efforts to secure a recount of the Baldwin County vote, allowing Riley to take office.[20]

In response to the allegation of a "computer glitch", Siegelman later stated: "[N]ow one would expect that if there was some kind of computer glitch or some kind of computer programming error, that it might have affected more than one race, but it further raised suspicions about vote stealing when the votes came back and they were certified, and the only person who lost votes was Don Siegelman, the Democrat, and the only person who gained votes was Bob Riley, the Republican."[21]

A number of analyses of the competing claims were undertaken at the time, with conflicting results. In one such study, Auburn University political scientist James H. Gundlach concluded that a detailed analysis of the returns, compared with 1998 results and returns from undisputed counties, "strongly suggests a systematic manipulation of the voting results."[22] The Gundlach study also suggested a mechanism by which this could have been effected, and proposed a conclusion that Siegelman won. An earlier analysis reported by the Associated Press, using a less sophisticated comparison of gubernatorial and legislative returns, was claimed to indicate that the revised returns were more accurate, and that Riley probably won.[23] The Gundlach paper offers a refutation of the conclusions of the Associated Press study.

Largely as a result of this controversy,[24] the Alabama Legislature later amended the election code to provide for automatic, supervised recounts in close races.[25] Riley took office January 20, 2003.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Alabama Democratic Party 2002 Primary Tabulation of Results" (PDF). Alabama Secretary of State. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "Siegelman vs. Riley: Governor, Congressman Win Party Contests Handily", The Birmingham News, June 5, 2002, p. 1A.
  3. ^ "Riley Doesn't Report VIP Donor List", The Birmingham News, September 25, 2002, p. 1A.
  4. ^ Editorial: "Once Again, Voters Lose Money Game", The Birmingham News, September 29, 2002, p. 8A.
  5. ^ Editorial: "Siegelman, Too", The Montgomery Advertiser, September 26, 2002, p. A6.
  6. ^ Editorial: "Our Endorsements", The Birmingham News, November 3, 2002, p. B2.
  7. ^ "Auburn Group Endorses Riley", The Anniston Star, October 22, 2002, p. A1.
  8. ^ "Siegelman Touts Emphasis on Education, New Industry", The Birmingham News, November 5, 2002, p. 1A (listing endorsements for both candidates).
  9. ^ "Siegelman Endorsed by Hubbert", The Birmingham News, October 19, 2002, p. 12A.
  10. ^ "Siegelman, Riley Raise Record $17 Million", The Birmingham News, September 24, 2002, p. 1A.
  11. ^ "Poll Shows Governor's Race Even", The Montgomery Advertiser, October 24, 2002, p. B3.
  12. ^ @MoreThanPol (April 3, 2021). "#ElectionTwitter Alabama's 2002 gubernatorial election saw incumbent Don Siegelman (D) losing to then-congressman Bob Riley (R) by the tightest of margins. Initial returns showed Siegelman leading narrowly, but a "computer glitch" from Baldwin County changed everything" (Tweet). Retrieved April 30, 2021 – via Twitter.
  13. ^ "Editorial Cartoon: Mobile Press-Register, November 7, 2002". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 25, 2006.
  14. ^ "Editorial Cartoon: The Birmingham News, November 7, 2002". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 25, 2006.
  15. ^ "Two Men Act like Winners", The Birmingham News, November 7, 2002, p. 1A.
  16. ^ "Baldwin in Eye of Ballot Storm", The Birmingham News, November 7, 2002, p. 1A.
  17. ^ "Riley Claims Win", The Montgomery Advertiser, November 7, 2002, p. A1.
  18. ^ "Post-Election Alabama Is Seeing Double", The Washington Post, November 8, 2002, p. A10.
  19. ^ "Attorney General Stops Recount Move", The Birmingham News, November 9, 2002, p. 1A.
  20. ^ "Siegelman Concedes: Recount Efforts Abandoned", The Birmingham News, November 19, 2002, p. 1A.
  21. ^ ""Siegelman speaks!" at democracyfornewhampshire.com". Archived from the original on 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  22. ^ James H. Gundlach, A Statistical Analysis of Possible Electronic Ballot Stuffing: The Case of the Baldwin County, Alabama Governor's Race in 2002 (Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Alabama Political Science Association, Troy, Alabama, April 11, 2003) Click here to view.
  23. ^ USA Today, November 7, 2002
  24. ^ "Vote Dispute Prompts Reform Calls", The Montgomery Advertiser, November 21, 2002, p. A1.
  25. ^ "Alabama Code § 17-16-20". Archived from the original on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 2008-05-27.

Note on references: Many of the sources cited above (as added in May 2008) are not available from free online sources. The Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register, The Montgomery Advertiser, and The Anniston Star have online archives on a fee basis. The Birmingham and Mobile newspaper archives may be accessed via www.al.com, while archives of The Anniston Star can be accessed at www.annistonstar.com. Archived articles of The Montgomery Advertiser may be purchased at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com Archived articles from all of these newspapers are also available to subscribers, or on a per-document fee basis, on Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]