By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Judge will rule on request in State House District 45 race
Judge Tracy Schumacher is expected to rule today on whether a request for a ballot recount will be honored in the State House District 45 race. The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Cleveland County Courthouse.
Paula Roberts, Democratic candidate House District 45, requested the recount after several grueling hours at the Cleveland County Election Board last Friday while election officials counted provisional ballots and opened and counted 60 mail-in absentee ballots that had been misplaced and gone uncounted in the Nov. 6 general election.
Despite the lost and provisional ballots, incumbent Republican Aaron Stiles, of Norman, remained the unofficial winner of the District 45 race by a margin of 18 votes.
Roberts’ attorney, Greg Bledsoe, also filed a petition alleging 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. Friday. 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 following the election.
“On election night, we had trouble opening the ballot envelopes,” Williams said.
He explained that the absentee ballots were being sliced in half and extra workers were 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 two days later
“It’s our belief that the integrity of the ballots has not been compromised,” Williams said.
Election Board Chair Lisa Shrieves, a Republican, and board member Hal Spake II, a Democrat, assisted Williams in opening the ballots. Only three votes affected the District 45 race. Stiles gained two votes and Roberts gained one 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. There were 24 provisional ballots counted in the House District 45 race.
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.
If the judge grants the recount, Williams said preparations have been made to count the ballots by hand. He does not know if that will occur in the courtroom or if the judge will allow officials to return to the election board.
In either case, there will be six tables with teams of four people at each table to count the ballots by hand. Williams said there will be equal party representation at each table. A caller will read the ballot and call out the vote. The stacker will take the ballot and confirm the caller’s announcement. The stacker and the caller will be of opposite political parties.
Two people will tally the votes as they are called out to protect against human error. They also will be of opposing political parties, so each party will have equal and fair representation at each counting table.
Even with six tables, counting 13,550 ballots will be a slow process.
After the recount, it is likely the judge will set a separate hearing on the matter of the “irregularities.”
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