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Election Academy

Oklahoma Supreme Court Voids Special State House Election

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[Image courtesy of chaosmage]

Today's story reminds me of an old joke:

Q: What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino? A: Elefino.

On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously voided the results of a special election for a state House seat in Tulsa. The court's order came after a series of problems cast doubt on the true outcome of the election. According to the Tulsa World:

On election night, the Tulsa County Election Board showed Arthrell as the winner by three votes.

During an April 11 recount requested by Henke, the sealed boxes containing the election's ballots were found to have four fewer ballots than voting machines and voters' registers had recorded.

As a result of the recount, the Tulsa County Election Board certified Henke as the winner by one vote over the objection of Arthrell's attorneys.

After the certification, election workers reinspected election equipment and found two ballots for Arthrell in a tub that collects ballots under a tallying machine.

That sent the issue to the Supreme Court with both sides asking to be declared the winner. Arthrell's attorneys argued all the votes needed to be counted, and Henke's attorneys argued the two stray ballots had not been properly secured and the recount's results needed to prevail.

The Court, after reviewing the "totality of the evidence presented," found it "impossible to determine with mathematical certainty which candidate is entitled to a certificate of election" and thus voided the election entirely.

In the wake of the order - and due to the delays occasioned by the case - the state board of elections is going to keep the seat vacant until it can be filled at this November's general election.

A few observations:

  1. While it appears that the Tulsa board didn't necessarily cover itself in glory (indeed, the Court took a dig to that effect in its order), one has to agree that two separate problems that put a very close result in doubt in two different directions is the very definition of a bad-luck nightmare for any election official;
  2. The Tulsa case may prompt the state legislature to look at whether and how to update its procedures to keep pace with new voting machines - and resolve disputed elections more quickly (as we discussed last week in Minnesota); and
  3. Generally, courts don't like to pick winners unless the election is clear. In this case, the court was essentially willing to throw up its hands rather than risk picking the wrong winner. The lesson here is that - unlike in other disputes - judges are not necessarily going to come to the rescue when other procedures break down.

The bottom line? Candidates, parties and election officials often disagree about how elections should be conducted - but nobody likes an elefino.

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