By M.J. Ellington
Despite close votes in numerous races including the governor's primary June 1, Alabama Republican Party officials say they have no plans for a crossover voting ban.
But state Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, has a word of caution for any Democrat who might try to influence the Republicans runoff.
"If we see evidence that a Democrat leader is trying to have a coordinated effort to affect our primary, we will let our voters know," Hubbard said. "Democrats need to play in their primary, and we need to play in ours."
Hubbert stopped short of saying his comments were directed to Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert. But the Republican state chairman added, "He is vice chairman of the state Democrat party."
Front-runner and former two-year college chancellor Bradley Byrne was more blunt. He said Hubbert is trying to influence the vote.
AEA reportedly funded ads in the primary criticizing Byrne. After he led the primary, the group made phone calls to its members to remind them that the Republican runoff is open to all voters -- even those who participated in the Democratic primary. AEA, however, did not say in the calls who Democrats should support in the runoff.
Hubbert said his organization made the calls because 35 percent of its members are Republicans and 15 percent to 20 percent are
"To me, that's just encouraging good citizenship," he said. "I would hope everybody votes."
Byrne sees a sinister side.
"Democrats are trying to hijack the runoff, and their purpose is to defeat me," he said.
Before the primary, Byrne accused Hubbert of funding political action committee contributions toward an anti-Byrne ad campaign.
Hubbard said his party will publicize attempts to influence the outcome of the runoff and at some point in the future could push for party registration for Alabama voters, but not now.
"You really can't have a closed primary until we have party registration," Hubbard said.
Alabama, like most other Southern states, does not require voters to officially declare their loyalty to a political party. The practice is uncommon in most other areas of the country, however.
In crossover voting, voters loyal to one party sometimes vote in another party's primary or runoff to influence the outcome in hopes of increasing the chances of their party's candidate during the general election.
When the Republican gubernatorial contest ended with the top three candidates finishing within 2 percentage points, rumors about a possible crossover ban for the July 13 runoff surfaced again. Hubbard said Tuesday the issue isn't practical under state law and the party will not push the idea.
This year, as in most big election years, the issue surfaced during party executive committee talks but nothing came of it, Republican spokesman Philip Bryan said.
Hubbard said in a state without official party registration, the idea is impossible to enforce.
Alabama Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Spearman said it is true that policing crossover voting in Alabama is difficult. The state Democratic Party has a policy against crossover voting, but Spearman said the policy uses an honor system and "there is no way to police it."
Spearman said he knows Democrats who voted in the Republican primary because they wanted to make sure a particular candidate did not get in the runoff. He said he also knows Republicans who do the same thing.
"Basically, we are an open state," he said.
Hubbert said his organization has not decided what role, if any, it will take in the runoff in July between Byrne and Bentley, a legislator and physician who used to be best known as Paul "Bear" Bryant's doctor until he finished in second in the seven-man primary.
No matter what it decides, money won't be a factor. The association recently filed a finance report showing it has $1.9 million to spend on the runoff. That's after spending $3.9 million on the primary.
AEA has accused Byrne of waging a "war against our schools," and Byrne has called AEA a "corrupting influence" that stands for the worst in the teaching profession.
Their feuding goes back to Byrne's service as the two-year college chancellor.
Bentley has had a friendlier relationship, including recently voting to stop a bill that would have legalized charter schools. He also received a $10,000 donation from AEA early in his campaign.
Bryne said AEA would have the best of both worlds with Bentley and Sparks in the general election.
"Dr. Bentley has always been one of the legislators they could count on," he said.
Bentley declined to respond to Byrne's criticism, but earlier in the campaign he said a governor must work with all influential people in Montgomery, including Hubbert, to be successful.
"I will not make this a fight with any one person or any one group," Bentley said. "We all need to work together to make Alabama a better place."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.