After recent scandalous news surrounding Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, some have wondered what might happen in Alabama. There are just two candidates on the ballot, Mr. Moore and Doug Jones.
Mr. Moore cannot be replaced. Alabama Code 17-6-21(c) requires any withdrawal to occur at least 76 days before Election Day; we're about a month out now. It's the same deadline for parties to replace their nominees under 17-13-23. It used to be 45 days until a series of 2014 amendments.
It's understandable that we have pretty early withdrawal deadlines. The dramatic expansion of early and absentee voting around the country, coupled with the long lead time to print ballots and then mail them, especially to overseas uniformed military personnel, has pushed these deadlines out.
But, withdrawing does have an impact, even if no can can replace him. That is, if Mr. Moore withdraws from the race, votes for him would not be counted: "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."
UPDATE: Per an exchange with @Taniel on Twitter, I construe this to mean that in the event Mr. Moore withdrew, but still received the most "votes," the second-best winner would actually win the race, because those "votes" for Mr. Moore would not be counted. It would be as if there were no candidate at all. It does not mean that there is now a vacancy in the office. I think that's the best reading of 21(c) (and this provision was added in 2014, with no meaningful legislative history that I can find). FURTHER UPDATE: It appears that Alabama in 2014 overrode several previous state supreme court holdings on this subject. Alabama had adhered to the "American rule," which would count votes for deceased, ineligible, or other withdrawn candidates, and in the event that candidate won, the office would be declared vacant and a new election held. The "English rule," a version of which Alabama adopted, disregards votes cast for such candidates. I have found no particular motivation for doing so (as of yet!).
UPDATE: There's a similar set of rules in 21(b) for instances in which the party withdraws its support for the nominee. It isn't clear to me from the Alabama Republican Party how it might go about doing that--in a sense, stripping the nomination from Mr. Moore to render all votes cast for him as null. But, it is also there in the statute.
Anyone may be a write-in candidate in Alabama. Alabama law does not require pre-election filing requirements for write-in candidates. Its write-in law hasn't been used much but was recently heavily revised in 2016. That means that anyone can start a campaign right now and run as a write-in. The last write-in to win a senate election? Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, 2010. Before that? Strom Thurmond in South Carolina, 1954.
Alabama's "sore loser" law does not prevent Luther Strange from running a write-in campaign. Alabama does have a "sore loser" law that prevents a candidate from appearing on the general election ballot if he lost the primary election. But that condition does not apply to write-in candidates--only candidates whose names might appear on the ballot. The Alabama Secretary of State has made this clear. Some have mentioned memoranda from Mr. Strange expounding upon the "sore loser" law. But those refer to printing the name on the ballot; they do not extend to write-in candidates.
A court could pull a "Torricelli" from 2002. In 2002, Robert Torricelli withdrew 35 days ahead of the election. State law prohibited filling vacancies within 51 days of the election. The New Jersey Supreme Court in Samson concluded that in order to effect the state legislature's desire that the popular will of the people control the outcome of the election, and given that it would be feasible to replace Mr. Torricelli's name on the ballot despite some absentee ballots already having been sent out, it would be acceptable to create a judicial exception to the statute and permit a replacement.
There are good reasons, I think, why these kinds of judicially-created post hoc exceptions are not terribly persuasive to me; Bob Levy in 2002 offers his scathing critique here. In contrast, Professor Rick Hasen offered a defense of such moves under the Democracy Canon, to extend deadlines to benefit voters.
Regardless of what one thinks is right, it's a claim that might be made to the Alabama courts. Even there, complications remain. As Professor Hasen notes, many overseas voters have already received ballots, and it might be a challenge to get them replacement ballots in time for the election.
In the event Mr. Moore withdraws, however, recall that votes for him do not count. A court balancing the equities (assuming it's persuaded to create a judicial exception to the replacement statute) might conclude that in the event the candidate has withdrawn, and the overseas voters' votes for that candidate might not count anyway, it may be the case that replacing a candidate would be acceptable.
If this occurred, then, I think, Alabama's "sore loser" law would still remain in effect, and Mr. Strange could not be the replacement. But I'm less confident of how this might work....
In the event I have updates, I'll revise this post as necessary.