NORMAN — The petition of Paula Roberts alleging irregularities in the Nov. 6 election for State House District 45 was heard Tuesday in Cleveland County District Court by Judge Tracy Schumacher. After several hours of testimony and questions regarding mostly provisional ballots, the hearing was continued until 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 30.
Roberts’ attorney Greg Bledsoe filed an amended petition on Monday, eliminating the original 11 claims of irregularity and primarily attacking several state voting procedures as unconstitutional. At the close of the hearing on Tuesday, Bledsoe indicated he would be amending the petition again.
Rep. Aaron Stiles, the House District 45 Republican incumbent, was found to have a 16 vote lead after the recount last week. Stiles expressed frustration with the protracted legal battle.
“They changed the petition yesterday, then they changed it in the middle of the trial and apparently they are going to change it again,” he said. “The attorneys will make more than I will make in two years (in the office of state representative).”
On Tuesday, Bledsoe focused his arguments on seven provisional ballots that were not counted because those seven people gave different addresses than their registered voting address. Bledsoe said that while the addresses did not match the address of registration, their addresses were still within House District 45 and the votes should have been allowed.
Assistant Election Board Secretary Anette Pretty said state election board policy eliminates provisional ballots that do not match the address of the official voter registration.
“We are told to look at the residence address on the affidavit,” Pretty said.
People without an acceptable identification such as a voter ID card or a drivers license or whose name on the ID does not match the name on the voter registration can still sign an affidavit and vote provisionally, but when the election board staff researches those provisional ballots, several factors much match up with the official voter registration for the vote to count.
It is not known which candidate would have received the seven provisional ballots under question.
“My concern is, and the reason we did this is, I want to make sure everyone who voted and is a legal voter got their vote counted,” Roberts said. “And part of that might be the new voter ID laws, but I don’t think all of the votes counted that should count.”
Roberts said she does not feel the election board staff were unfair to her. Most of the staff worked under Roberts for years.
“I do know some of the staff and I think they’re very good,” Roberts said. “I think some things have happened that are outside their control.”
Bledsoe said that the state’s administrative code requiring the address on the provisional ballot affidavit match the voter registration address is unsupported by state statute. He further argued that the rule is unconstitutional because people who voted provisionally were treated differently than those who simply presented an ID and voted.
For example, while the voter ID card has an address, a voter may use a driver’s license with a photo and an expiration date, but the address does not have to match the address of the voter registration records. The name must match, but the address does not have to match.
Other items listed on the petition as irregularities include claims that special considerations granted to military and overseas voters must be allowed to all voters according to Oklahoma’s constitutional requirement that all voters be treated the same.
“The only thing that we learned in there (in court on Tuesday) is that some people tried to commit voter fraud and apparently our system prevented it,” said Stiles of the provisional ballots that were not counted.
In addition to testimony by Pretty and by Cleveland County Election Board Chair Lisa Shrieves, a voter who sent in an absentee ballot said she believed she was sent the wrong ballot. Jamie Jennings said she and her husband mailed in their ballots and she believes the Roberts and Stiles race was on their ballots.
“At the time, I didn’t realize it shouldn’t be on there,” she said.
Jennings said after the election she read about the recount in the paper and mentioned it to her boss, Lindsay Bailey who confirmed that she does not live in House District 45 and should report the matter to Roberts’ attorneys.
No evidence was offered to substantiate that Jennings’ memory was accurate.
Roberts said she devoted years of her life to the election system and she feels very strongly that every vote should count.