Mayor Eddie Long May Still Appeal The Ruling
A recount has apparently overturned the results of the Harrodsburg mayoral race, but there may be yet another chapter in the saga.
On Tuesday, attorneys and officials met at Mercer County Judicial Center to recount the votes cast in the Nov. 6 general election. After almost eight hours, they had found 1,197 votes cast for Art Freeman, who ran a write-in campaign to unseat Mayor Eddie Long.
A lot of those votes contained Freeman’s name or some variation of it, but in many cases, the voters had not shaded in the area indicating they were casting a write-in vote. The voting machines counted their ballots as an undervote, a vote for nobody.
Circuit Judge Darren Peckler decided those votes should count for Freeman. Peckler cited Waters v. Skinner, a 2007 case in which a candidate sued the McCreary County Board of Elections over whether ballots in which given names alone were entered could be counted as proper votes. Peckler specifically cited three principles from the case, which was ultimately decided by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. First, that all elections are presumed valid. Second, that the intent of the voter “is of controlling importance.” And third, that “irregularities on the part of election officials cannot be used to disenfranchise voters.”
County Attorney Ted Dean objected, citing 31 Kentucky Administrative Regulations 006 section 5(b), which states, “The oval, box, or space next to the candidate’s name or the question choice is circled or underlined; has been modified” and section 6(6), which states, “Writing in only the first name of an eligible candidate shall not constitute a valid vote.” Dean said the regulations had been modified since Waters v. Skinner, but he was overruled.
It was a dramatic turnaround for the political fortunes of Freeman, who initially seemed to have lost the election by four votes—1033 to 1029. However, 63 write-in votes were not certified that night and Freeman sued the Mercer County Board of Elections for a recount.
On Monday, county employees under the supervision of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office transferred the voting machines—which had been sealed since election night—to Judge Peckler’s court room. On Tuesday, Peckler, Freeman’s lawyer Mike Harden and County Attorney Ted Dean began counting the actual paper ballots.
At every precinct, Freeman seemed to pick up votes. At the Opera House precinct, Freeman picked up 31 votes that hadn’t been counted on election night. All of the ballots had Freeman’s name but the voter had not shaded in the area indicating they were casting a write-in vote. The voting machine counted the ballot as an undervote and as a result, it was never seen by the board of elections on Nov. 6.
Ross Robertson, vice-president of Harp Enterprises, which manufactures the voting machines, testified that his company had built the machines according to state standards. He said they were so sensitive a voter doesn’t need to shade in the circle indicating a write-in vote, only make a mark. If the voter didn’t make a mark at all, the ballot wasn’t counted.
“That’s considered an undervote,” Robertson testified.
Once the votes had been tallied again, Judge Peckler said he would order the board of elections to grant Freeman 1,197 votes, which would make him the winner of the mayoral race.
However, Mayor Long may file with the Kentucky Court of Appeals within 10 days after the entry of the judgment.
Preparing for just such an appeal, Judge Peckler had all the contested votes entered as evidence and ordered the voting machines to be resealed and transferred to the clerk’s office. Peckler also said he would breakdown the vote totals by contested votes pending an appeal.
To learn more, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald.