The Norman Transcript

November 8, 2012

Provisional ballots key to race

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Election board will meet Friday to certify results

Sixty-nine provisional ballots hold the key to the outcome of the State House District 45 race between incumbent Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, and Democratic challenger, Paula Roberts, also of Norman.

“That’s a high number of those provisionals to be counted,” said Cleveland County Election Board Secretary Jim Williams.

Pending the outcome of the provisional ballots, that race could still swing to favor challenger Roberts. Were Roberts to triumph, it would be remarkable in the current climate of anti-Democrat sentiment and perhaps the only example in the politically red Sooner state of a Democrat unseating a Republican.

Stiles currently has an 18-vote margin of victory. He garnered a sliver more than 50 percent with a total of 6,786 votes to Roberts’ 6,768 votes.

On Tuesday night, two polling places in District 45 had “discrepancies” of a single vote, which triggered Williams to recount the ballots in those precincts.

“Any time there’s any discrepancy, we research it,” he said.

In this case, the problem seemed to be official error. The recount revealed the digital count of the ballots at both precincts was accurate. In one case, a printer malfunction on one of the polling machines meant a total was not printed, which confused the final count until a recount through a single machine was accomplished, and the vote was verified.

The votes and the voting process were never compromised, Williams said.

The Cleveland County Election Board staff is currently researching each of the provisional ballots. Provisional ballots cast by qualified registered voters will be tallied when the election board meets to certify the vote Friday afternoon.

“We plan to be there for that,” Roberts said. “We’re still hopeful.”

Williams said provisional ballots will not count if they were cast by non-registered voters.

Many of the provisional ballots are a result of women who married and changed their names but failed to update their voting registration to show that change, voting officials said.

Those votes should count once the registration is verified. The new state ID law requires that voters show proof of ID, and the name on the ID must match the name the voter is registered under.

In other cases, voters forgot to bring an ID and were allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

The votes have to be counted and the election certified by 5 p.m. Friday, Williams said.

Absentee ballots that were being counted late Tuesday night and into the wee hours Wednesday morning shifted the election in Stiles’ direction. Mail-in absentee votes netted Stiles 389 absentee votes, or nearly 53 percent, while Roberts received 348 votes, or just more than 47 percent.

Early voters favored Roberts with 755 votes, or nearly 58 percent, to Stiles’ 553 votes, or 42 percent.

During regular voting, Stiles captured 5,855, or nearly 51 percent, of the vote to Roberts’ 5,665, which is just more than 49 percent.

“We could look at a recount,” Roberts said. “Right now, we’re just looking at the provisional ballots and how many of those are provisional and need to be counted.”

Historically, it is not unusual for District 45 races to have a narrow margin. The district’s registration contains about 9,000 Democrats, 8,600 Republicans and 3,000 independent voters.

“It’s always been close. My first two races I won by 200 votes or so,” said Wallace Collins, who had the seat on four separate occasions. His largest victory was around 900 votes in 2008. Stiles defeated Collins two years later.

“It’s competitive and always a tight race,” Collins said.

As Oklahoma has become a Democrat-hostile environment, tensions inside the more liberal community of Norman continue to keep things interesting — at least in District 45.

In October, State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said that nearly 68,000 new voters had registered in Oklahoma since Jan. 1. Of those, more than two-thirds or 45,094 voters registered as Republican. Registered Democrats increased by only 6,940 voters.

“That’s something we’ve got to work on, obviously,” said Collins, who currently serves as the Oklahoma Democratic chair. “We thought we could make some gains this time, and we didn’t. We still actually have more Democrats registered than Republicans, but we can’t get them to vote this way.”

On Tuesday, the biggest glitch in counting votes in a timely manner at the Cleveland County Election Board was an unexpected issue resulting from mail-in absentee ballots.

When the election board mailed out absentee ballots, they included return envelopes for those ballots. New ballots fold differently than older ballots and fit more tightly into the older envelopes. When election board staff tried to run those envelopes through the automatic mail opener Tuesday, the machine was slicing ballots, which was unacceptable.

“We had to open 5,000 envelopes by hand,” Williams said.

That meant hours more work by election staff than had been anticipated.


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