Election officials began a statewide recount Monday after a measure to remove segregation-era language from the Alabama Constitution was apparently rejected narrowly by the voters.
The proposed amendment would delete unenforced sections of the constitution that mandate racially segregated schools and allow poll taxes, once used to discourage blacks from voting.
The amendment failed by 1,850 votes out of 1.38 million cast. State law calls for a recount when a ballot measure fails by less than one-half of a percentage point.
Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the recount would only increase damage to a state still struggling with its image as a civil rights battleground.
“The perception that is going out after that vote is setting us back 40 or 50 years,” said Steele, a former state senator from Tuscaloosa.
The recount may not be completed until next week.
Election officials in most counties began feeding paper ballots by hand through electronic scanners to get a new count. Paper jams and malfunctions caused by crinkled ballots slowed the effort.
Former state Republican Party Chairman Elbert Peters argued it was not lingering racism, but fears the measure would lead to court-ordered tax increases for public schools that led to its defeat.
Alabama’s constitution mandated separate schools “for white and colored children” and imposed poll taxes. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision banning school segregation, Alabama amended its constitution to say there was no constitutional right to an education at public expense.
The proposed measure, endorsed by Republican Gov. Bob Riley, would have wiped out the Jim Crow provisions.
But opponents said they feared the possibility of a constitutionally guaranteed public education would prompt judges to mandate increased spending for schools.