Legislative 101

Seating Doug Jones in the Senate, Explained


On December 12, Doug Jones became the first Democrat to win a Senate election in Alabama since 1992. His victory put progressive control of the Senate within striking distance in 2018, and potentially dealt a serious blow to the Trump agenda.

However, Republicans in Congress are steaming ahead to pass their Tax Scam before Jones can officially be seated as a United States Senator. This document breaks down Alabama election law and the process for seating a new Senator. The bottom line? The people of Alabama have spoken, and their voice deserves to be heard. There should be no vote on the Tax Scam until Doug Jones has been seated in the Senate. (You can use this script to tell your Senators that.)

What happens next in Alabama?

There are still legally mandated steps that the Alabama Secretary of State must take before Jones can be seated (you can see the full administrative calendar for this year’s special election in Alabama here). Overseas ballots can continue coming in until December 19, and write-in and provisional ballots must still be counted and added to the respective candidates’ tallies. Once all of these ballots are in, counties have to begin the process of reporting their results to the Alabama State Canvassing Board—a process that must conclude by December 22, according to Section 17-12-15 of Alabama law. However, the chief of staff for Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has already suggested that some counties will miss this deadline—so they may not be finished until December 26.

After all of those ballots are counted, the election results have to be certified by the State Canvassing Board—which means they have to report the final vote totals from each county, including all accepted provisional, write-in, and overseas ballots. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said on Election Night that the certification process would be complete between December 26 and January 3 (which is both the final day that the results can be certified under Section 17-12-17 of Alabama law, and the day the Senate is likely to resume business after the holidays). As soon as the State Canvassing Board certifies the results, they will notify the Senate and Doug Jones will be eligible to be sworn in once Mitch McConnell sets a date (which he hasn’t done yet).

There is also the potential issue of a recount once the results have been certified, though it appears highly unlikely that a recount will take place. Based on the unofficial results, Doug Jones won with 49.9% of the vote, compared to Roy Moore’s 48.4% (the other 1.7% went to write-in candidates). This is well outside of the 0.5% margin that triggers an automatic recount under Alabama law. On top of that, it appears Moore may not be able to request a recount at all, as Rick Hasen (a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine) explains in a blog post here. It boils down to the fact that candidates for the United States Senate are not included on the list of contenders for office who are allowed to contest election results under Alabama law—which means that Moore is out of luck.

How does this impact the Trump agenda?

The biggest takeaway from Doug Jones’ win is that progressive voters are motivated and ready to compete in every state and district in 2018 (which is why we’re helping to build electoral power in every district in the country through our Indivisible435 program). The House and the Senate are both in striking distance for 2018—and after we retake Congress next year, we’ll be able to fight back against all of Trump’s destructive nominees and legislative priorities.

The election of Doug Jones shifts the Republican majority in the Senate from 52-48 to 51-49. This gives them an even slimmer margin for error than they already had. In other words: this election, which we won thanks to progressive political power, has now exponentially increased your constituent power. Just two “no” votes from Republican Senators can sink the Trump agenda in the Senate.

In the short term, it appears that Republicans will ignore the will of Alabama’s voters and hold a final vote on the Tax Scam before Senator-elect Jones can be seated. That is the opposite of the approach taken by Democrats when Republican Scott Brown won a surprising special election victory in deep blue Massachusetts in 2010. Then, leading Democrats —including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—agreed that they should hold off on taking any votes on the Affordable Care Act until Senator Brown could be seated. Republican leaders are taking the exact opposite path—they want to rush the Tax Scam through before the people of Alabama can have their duly-elected Senator seated in Washington.

We have to tell our Senators: The people of Alabama have spoken, and their voice deserves to be heard. No vote on the Tax Scam until Doug Jones has been seated in the Senate. If you live in a red state, you can use our call script to tell your Senator No Jones, No Vote. If you live in a blue state, you can use our call tool to call constituents in red states and connect them to their Senators, so they can tell them how important it is that they stick to their principles and wait for Doug Jones to be seated.