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Alabama faces recount over segregationist laws

Amendment would remove long-unenforced provisions

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(CNN) -- A proposed amendment that would remove long-unenforced segregationist provisions from the Alabama Constitution trailed by a razor-thin margin Thursday and faces a recount.

Amendment 2 would remove language that provides for separate-but-equal schools for whites and blacks, authorizes poll taxes and specifies in a 1956 amendment that Alabamians have no constitutional right to public education.

That 1956 amendment was at the center of the opposition to Amendment 2. Critics argued that repealing the old amendment would lead to higher school taxes.

With nearly 99 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results from Tuesday's general election showed Amendment 2 trailing by roughly 2,500 votes out of nearly 1.4 million ballots cast.

A margin that narrow -- within one-half of 1 percent -- triggers an automatic recount, said Trey Granger, a spokesman for Alabama Secretary of State Nancy Worley.

An unknown number of absentee and provisional ballots remain to be counted as well, Granger said.

Gov. Bob Riley, who supported the measure, said Wednesday the outcome was too close to call.

The measure was opposed by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was removed from the bench for defying a court order to remove a stone tablet of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building.

Moore and the Christian Coalition argued that repealing the segregationist 1956 amendment would open the door to court-ordered tax increases for education.

Despite the narrow margin, Christian Coalition chief John Giles declared victory.

"The Christian Coalition of Alabama will work to ensure that reckless trial lawyers and activist judges will not be able to open the floodgates to increase taxes and that private, Christian, parochial and home-school families will be protected," Giles said in a statement on the group's Web site.

"The Christian Coalition will lead the way to remove the racist language in the next election."

In 1993, amid a lawsuit over state education funding, a circuit judge in Montgomery struck down the amendment. The state Supreme Court upheld his ruling in 1997.

But in 2002, during Moore's tenure as chief justice, the court reopened the case and reversed itself.

A recount on Amendment 2 would be the first conducted under an Alabama law passed in 2003, Granger said.

When the recount would take place was still to be determined. Worley asked the state attorney general's office to clarify whether it would begin when counties canvass their results, on November 12, or on November 24, when Riley, Worley and Attorney General Troy King certify statewide results.

"We believe it's the statewide canvass day," Granger said.

Riley, a Republican, blamed the state Legislature for the outcome, because lawmakers added to his proposal language to remove the 1956 provision.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Riley said the Legislature's version "made people skeptical of the amendment." He said he will submit his original proposal to the Legislature.

"It's unfortunate the change made by the Legislature generated so much confusion and doubt about the amendment's intentions," Riley said.

"When I proposed this amendment to the Legislature, it simply removed segregationist language from our constitution -- something I hope all Alabamians would support."

But state Rep. James Buskey of Mobile, the measure's sponsor in the Alabama House of Representatives, said lawmakers "did a good job in cleaning up language related to segregation."

"The governor may be right," said Buskey. "But by the same token, the committee took care of its obligation to mark up a bill it thought should have been marked up -- and I'll add, I think it made it a better bill."

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