An Iron County judge has ordered a new primary election will be held for the Republican nomination for the county’s sheriff position.
On Thursday, Iron County Circuit Judge Kelly Parker entered judgment for a new sheriff election to take place Sept. 22, following a petition filed by Iron County Sheriff Roger Medley contesting the results of the August primary election.
Medley's petition filed last week alleged that several irregularities occurred during the election, and requested the court to order the sheriff primary to be redone.
Medley sought re-election as the county sheriff in the Aug. 4 primary election but was defeated by challenger and former-Iron County Deputy Jeff Burkett.
Medley’s petition detailed multiple claims supporting the request for a new election, including discrepancies in vote numbers, election judge irregularities, and issues with voting ballots.
After a preliminary hearing held Wednesday, Judge Parker found that there were “multiple and substantial irregularities of sufficient magnitude to cast doubt on, and place under suspicion, the validity of the primary election in Iron County for the Republican nomination for Sheriff of Iron County, Missouri.”
The court further found that, beyond substantial irregularities, the Aug. 4 primary election was “fraught with multiple errors and violations of the Missouri election laws.”
Among the errors that occurred in the election were voting irregularities at the Ghermanville Precinct.
Initial ballots provided to voters in the Ghermanville Precinct incorrectly allowed voters to vote on the Southern District Commissioner candidates rather than the Western District Commissioner candidates.
The automatic tabulating machine provided to the precinct for voters to cast their ballots was programmed to accept those incorrect ballots.
When the incorrect ballot issue was discovered by former-County Clerk Stephanie Lebron, correct ballots were provided to the precinct sometime after 1 p.m. However, since the automatic tabulating machine was not programmed to accept the correct ballots, those ballots were rejected by the machine, according to the judgment. (Lebron resigned after the election.)
When ballots in the precinct were rejected, they were to be placed in the emergency slot on the tabulating machine.
“Although it is unclear who placed the rejected ballots in the emergency slot, at least on some occasions, an election judge took possession of the ballots from voters and placed them in the emergency slot,” Judge Parker stated in the judgment. “Some voters were told to give their ballots to an election judge rather than to attempt to feed the ballot into the automatic tabulating machine.”
The court found that a total of 51 ballots were ultimately placed in the emergency slot of the machine at the precinct.
When voting ended, the election judges in the precinct attempted to remove the ballots from the machine but were unable to gain access with the key provided. The machine was taken, with all ballots remaining inside, to the County Clerk's Office. Once at the clerk's office, access to the ballots was obtained and the ballots in the emergency slot were manually counted.
“Although it is unclear to the court, it is the court's recollection of the evidence that the election judges from the Ghermanville Precinct were not present for the counting of any of the votes from the Ghermanville Precinct,” the judgment states.
Due to the problems at the voting precinct, at least one election judge from the precinct refused to serve on what was referred to as the “verification committee.”
In Thursday’s judgment, the court also addressed discrepancies between the total number of votes reported to the Missouri Secretary of State and the number of votes certified by the Iron County Clerk’s Office.
Sometime during the late evening of Aug. 4, and the very early morning hours of Aug. 5, Lebron or one of her employees reported the results of the primary election, along with the total votes cast, to the Missouri Secretary of State.
The court determined that the total number of votes reported to the Missouri Secretary of State by Lebron's office was 168 votes more than her office ultimately certified. The apparent explanation for this discrepancy is some form of human error.
“Nevertheless, such a large discrepancy in the reporting of the total votes cast is irregular,” states the judgment.
Other irregularities were cited by the court, including the fact that one election judge worked a voting poll despite being the mother-in-law of a candidate for sheriff, Ben Starnes.
Ultimately, the court ruled that the election should be redone with all county sheriff candidates who appeared on the August ballot appearing on the new primary election ballot in the same order.
“With full understanding that ordering a new primary election is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, this court feels compelled by the facts of this case to grant just that relief,” the court stated in its judgment. “Nothing short of a new primary election for the contested office will remove the suspicion and doubt about the validity of that election.”
Judge Parker explained that by ordering a new primary election with all of the same candidates, it is the court's intent to return Contestant Medley and Contestee Burkett to the previously existing state of affairs and nothing more. “To do otherwise would most certainly give one advantage over the other.”
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com
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