Alabama Governor's Controversy Not Unprecedented

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Election records show that having two politicians claim to be governor-elect of Alabama is not unprecedented. But it's been a while.

It happened the last time a congressman like Bob Riley became Alabama's governor. That election dispute in 1894 dragged on so long that the public witnessed two swearing-in ceremonies on inauguration day, and historians still write about whether the vote tally was correct.

Now Alabama finds itself with Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman and Republican Congressman Bob Riley both claiming to have won Tuesday's election, and Siegelman demanding a recount of the unofficial tally that shows Riley leading by 3,117 votes.

UAB's Margaret Armbrester, co-author of the book “Alabama Governors,” said governors have behaved this way before. In the past, only one Alabama congressman has succeeded in becoming governor: William C. Oates in 1894.

In that year's election, Oates led Reuben Kolb 111,875 to 83,292, but allegations of election corruption flew. Armbrester's book concludes that Oates' victory “was partly the result of stuffed ballot boxes in the Black Belt.”

Kolb and many of his Populist supporters refused to accept the results, but without the state constitution addressing a recount, there was little they could do.

When inauguration day arrived, Kolb took the oath of office from a justice of the peace in downtown Montgomery. Then he and his angry supporters marched up Montgomery's main street to the Capitol, intent upon disrupting Oates' inauguration.

They were turned aside by state troops, and Oates' inauguration continued.

Kolb eventually wearied of the election battle and left politics for several years.

But like many Alabama politicians, his interest in the governor's office was rekindled and he made another run in 1914.

The result: he lost again.