Legal Quandaries in the Alabama Senate Election of 2017

13 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2018 Last revised: 5 Feb 2018

Derek T. Muller

Pepperdine University - School of Law; University of Iowa - College of Law

Date Written: January 11, 2018


President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General resulted in a vacancy in the Senate and triggered a special election. The special election, however, revealed the many complexities of the Seventeenth Amendment, special elections generally, and Alabama state law specifically.

This Article traces a series of legal quandaries that arose from the special election, some of which remain open questions for future Alabama elections, and for United States Senate elections more generally. Part I examines the scope of the Alabama Governor’s power to call for a special election under the Seventeenth Amendment and state law. Part II scrutinizes the complications for replacing a late-withdrawing candidate and for counting votes cast for a candidate who resigns. Part III identifies proposed gambits, from postponing the election to write-in campaigns, that never came to fruition. Part IV examines the timing surrounding certification of election results in Alabama. Part V looks at gaps in Alabama’s recount and election contest procedures. Finally, Part VI identifies the most significant opportunities to clarify Alabama law and to properly interpret the Seventeenth Amendment to avoid uncertainty in future elections.

Keywords: senate, special election, election law, voting rights, alabama senate, alabama state law, seveneenth amendment, federal courts, jurisdiction, independent candidates, ballot access, write-in laws, writs of election

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K19, K41, K49

Suggested Citation

Muller, Derek T., Legal Quandaries in the Alabama Senate Election of 2017 (January 11, 2018). 69 Alabama Law Review __, Forthcoming; Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper 2018/4. Available at SSRN:

Derek T. Muller (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States
310-506-7058 (Phone)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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