After allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore has been pressured by many to drop out of the race. What happens if he decides to drop out? Who picks his replacement?
As per Alabama code, Title 17 - Elections, Chapter 6 - ELECTION PREPARATION, Article 2 Ballots, Moore will remain on the ballot because it is less than 76 days before the election.
This applies to both scenarios - Moore dropping out voluntarily OR GOP withdrawing him as candidate:
(b) ... Any amendment filed after the 76th day before a primary or a general election shall be accepted by the judge of probate or the Secretary of State but shall not be cause for reprinting of the ballots.
The name of a candidate who is the subject of the amendment and who is disqualified by a political party or who has withdrawn as a candidate shall remain on the ballot, not be replaced by the name of another candidate, and the appropriate canvassing board shall not certify any votes for the candidate. ...
(c) ... The notification deadline for persons who do not wish to accept nomination in a general election is 76 days before the date of the election. In the event that a candidate submits a notification of withdrawal after the applicable deadline, the name of the candidate shall remain on the ballot and the appropriate canvassing board may not certify any votes for the candidate.
(Section 17-6-21: Contents; amendments; withdrawal of name.)
(Code 1896, §1607; Code 1907, §373; Acts 1909, No. 110, p. 277; Code 1923, §463; Code 1940, T. 17, §148; §17-8-2; amended and renumbered by Act 2006-570, p. 1331, §29; Act 2014-6, p. 21, §1.)
However, it apparently is possible (and moreover, not merely legally possible but politically possible as per Alabama's Republican Secretary of State), to disassociate Moore's name from "R" party even if by law his name remains on the ballot:
Secretary of State John Merrill (R) told CNN "OutFront" host Erin Burnett that if the state GOP made the request, Moore would remain on the ballot but not appear as a Republican.
"He would not be removed from the ballot, but then again there's a number of other things that will follow a protocol if the party take that permanent step and if they do, we will adhere to their request and we will honor their request as we should by law, and then we'll make sure that the proper adjudication of the process is adhered to as the election continues," Merrill said.
Since the deadline for filing has long passed, as per law quoted above, the only way for a replacement candidate (e.g.
Lex LuthorLuther Strange who is frequently floated as an option) is to be a write-in candidate, under Section 17-6-27.
The elector may write in the column under the title of the office the name of any person whose name is not printed upon the ballot for whom the elector may desire to vote.
Alabama Secretary of State explicitly noted that while "sore loser" laws would specifically prevent Strange as the primary loser from appearing on the ballot as printed independent, they don't affect write-ins.
All votes for “write-in” candidates will be counted in the event that the candidate is qualified to hold the office and not a fictional character. It is also required that the “write-in” vote be hand-written. Additionally, there are no existing stipulations that prohibit a candidate from being elected despite having unsuccessfully run for a party’s nomination, which would normally apply due to Alabama’s sore loser law.
To make things more complicated, what happens if Moore wins most votes despite being withdrawn or GOP-disassociated (as he's still on the ballot)?
AlaSecState addressed that in Fox News interview, saying the election would be declared null and void and the governor would have to call another special election. He didn't cite specific law, though some analysis I saw mentioned that he probably had in mind "American rule" of resolving such situations (vs "English rule").
However, that statement seems to conflict with HB62 which in 2013 amended the abovementioned sectoin 17-6-21-c to remove "American rule" and which seems to require any Moore votes to be discarded in the first place (presumably meaning next largest voted candidate would win automatically):
The name of a candidate who is the subject of the amendment and who is disqualified by a political party or who has withdrawn as a candidate shall remain on the ballot, not be replaced by the name of another candidate, and the appropriate canvassing board shall not certify any votes for the candidate.
The Republican state party picks his replacement - both parties have rules in place to handle the situation of a candidate dropping out at the last minute.
As to what this does to the chances of a Democrat winning a senate seat... Alabama tends to be a conservative state, but this won't help matters any.
It was a clever move on the part of the Dems, not bringing this up until the last minute, leaving the Repubs in a bit of a bind.