Republican Rep. Jim Sorvillo asks in a lawsuit filed yesterday for a new election in his House District 32, which had his Democratic challenger Ashley Hudson ahead by 24 votes after the addition last night of one more absentee ballot.
The Pulaski County Election Commission last night did not certify the results in that district on news of the lawsuit, filed for Sorvillo by A.J. Kelly at 4:42 p.m., just before the start of the meeting to certify election results.
His main contention is that 327 absentee ballots that had been disqualified in canvassing were included in the county vote totals, including 32 in his race, enough potentially to change the outcome of the race. No one knows (or may be able to know) how those votes split.
His lawsuit also questions some other glitches in the vote counting, including some provisional ballots counted late and the lack of paper ballots at the beginning of voting in two precincts in his district. Hudson was ahead by 25 votes before last night’s meeting, but a further review of nine absentee ballots produced one more vote for Sorvillo.
His suit asks the court to declare the results incapable of correction. It says only a new election can remedy the errors. The suit was assigned to Judge Alice Gray, but she has recused from the case. Ashley Hudson is the daughter of Pulaski Circuit Judge Chip Welch, who drew the case after Gray recused and can also be expected to step off the case.
If Sorvillo’s reasoning is correct, it seems it would also apply to a race that WAS certified last night despite a closer margin. The Republican-majority commission certified the race for House District 38. It was led by 16 votes by Republican incumbent Rep. Carlton Wing over Democrat Matthew Stallings. That race included a reported 38 disqualified absentees in the count. Again, no one knows how those votes split.
Hudson remarked last night that it seemed strange to refuse to certify her race but to certify Wing’s.
No suggestion of fraud attaches to these improperly counted absentee ballots. All were sent to registered voters. But they were returned with voter statements that lacked photo ID or the alternate sworn statement or had other discrepancies, some as minor as a failure to include a ZIP code with a street address.
They were mistakenly counted because they were placed in a mislabeled box that indicated they HAD supplied the optional sworn statement and should be counted despite a lack of photo ID.
Last night’s meeting was marked by confusion over another box of ballots marked as eligible for counting that Election Director Bryan Poe said he discovered in a final sweep of the ballot storage. On further review, it was determined to be another mislabeled box of disqualified ballots and so they were not counted.