By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Despite lost ballots and provisional ballots, incumbent Republican Aaron Stiles of Norman is the unofficial winner of the state House District 45 race by a margin of 18 votes.
Democrat Paula Roberts, also of Norman, has asked for a recount.
The candidates, their lawyers and Cleveland County Election Board officials will appear before Judge Tracy Schumacher at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Cleveland County Courthouse.
Additionally, Roberts’ attorney, Greg Bledsoe, said he has filed a petition that “numerous irregularities” had tainted the election and that either Roberts should be declared the winner or it should be determined there is a mathematical uncertainty as to the outcome.
The Cleveland County Election Board opened its meeting at 3 p.m. on Friday. Oklahoma election boards meet on the Friday after the election to certify the vote, which must be done by 5 p.m.
Cleveland County Election Board Secretary Jim Williams began with a request for an item under new business saying 60 mail-in absentee ballots had been discovered in a locked room yesterday.
“On election night we had trouble opening the ballot envelopes,” Williams said.
He explained that the absentee ballots were being sliced in half and the procedure of opening them with the machine was stopped and extra workers called in to open the envelopes by hand.
Sixty envelopes were “inadvertently” placed with empty envelopes where they remained in a locked room until discovered.
“It’s our believe that the integrity of the ballots has not been compromised,” Williams said. “Our office is committed to the election’s integrity and the believe that every vote counts.”
Williams said his office verified that the absentee ballots that had been counted were short 60 envelopes according the tally of absentee ballots being returned.
Election Board Chair Lisa Shrieves, a Republican, and board member Hale Spake II, a Democrat, assisted Williams in opening the ballots. Because of additional ballots in the city of Moore Special Election, there were actually more ballots than 60. They were run through the machine in three batches of 41 ballots, 27 ballots and 2 ballots.
It took several tries to get the machine to scan and verify the ballots. Stiles waited in the back, chatting with friends. Roberts sat at a table near the front taking notes. Her daughter, Amanda Roberts, who was her campaign manager, was at her side.
Once the votes were tallied, only three affected the District 45 race. Stiles gained two votes and Roberts gained 1 vote, increasing Stiles’ lead to 19 votes.
Williams said a total of 527 provisional ballots were cast countywide. Of those, only 110 were deemed eligible and would be counted.
In District 45, 72 provisional ballots were cast. Thursday that number was stated to be 69, but was updated on Friday to 72. Of the 72 provisional ballots in House District 45, 24 would count.
The final tally brought the candidates back to where they had started with Stiles in the lead by 18 votes.
Stiles garnered 6,799 total votes to Roberts’ 6,781 total votes.
Because of problems with the voting machines, the process was long and the clock was approaching 5 p.m., time the vote must be certified.
“We hadn’t planned to do that,” Roberts said of the request for a recount. “Because of the time situation, we had to make a decision by 5.”
If Roberts did not request a recount by 5 p.m. she could not request one.
“They’re holding on to hope and it’s not over, but I can breathe easier,” Stiles said.
Stiles said the close race is not unusual for this district where Republicans and Democrats live side by side.
“That’s one of the things I love about Norman,” he said.
As far as the recount, he said he feels a reasonable amount of confidence in his victory.
“We’ve not seen anything overturned over three votes,” he said.
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