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One-vote cliffhanger turns into 102-vote goof

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 14, 2012 - State Rep. Stacey Newman's one-vote victory over state Rep. Susan Carlson in the Aug. 7 primary is the least of the problems facing the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners.

It is 102 votes. That is the number of Democratic primary voters who were given the wrong ballot. All should have been given a ballot to vote in the Newman/Carlson Democratic primary in the 87th District.

Instead, they were given a ballot that had the wrong state House district's candidates.

And there may have been more improper votes casted, board officials and Carlson said Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, the election board voted not to certify the result in the 87th District. Instead, the board has filed a petition in St. Louis County circuit court asking a judge to determine what should happen next.

"It may be to call a new election," said county Democratic elections director Rita Days.

Days said the mistakes occurred at the polling place in Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, in Brentwood, where poll workers accidentally handed those 102 voters ballots with the 83rd District race between James Trout and Gina Mitten. Mitten won by more than 700 votes, so the error does not affect that contest.

The confusion was caused because the polling place workers in that location previously had not dealt with two different ballots, Days said. Redistricting had changed boundary lines, so Mount Calvary was to handle voters in two different state House districts.

(Start of update) Carlson said Wednesday that her campaign had been alerted by supporters on Election Day to problems at Mount Calvary, along with similar reports of alleged wrong ballots handed out at polling places in Brentwood Forest and at the VFW hall on Big Bend Boulevard.

Carlson said her campaign, in turn, advised the Election Board while balloting was underway.

Days confirmed that election officials had received such reports. Since the election, she said,  the voting records at Brentwood Forest and the VFW hall have not been examined after it became clear that the Mount Calvary problem was significant enough to change the outcome of the election.

Mount Calvary "was the only polling place we checked,'' Days said. (End of update)

Newman and Carlson -- who were tossed into the same district by redistricting -- have each obtained attorneys. 

Newman said in an interview that "I have my faith in the system,'' and noted that she sits on the state House's Elections Committee. 

Newman also alluded to the complicated political-selection process and special election that won her the House seat initially in 2009. "I've had my history of odd elections,'' Newman said.

The circuit court already has told the Election Board that judges are unaware of such a mistake ever happening before in St. Louis County,

Days said the board's staff has determined who was at fault, but "we don't want to throw anybody under the bus'' in public.

"It's an unacceptable mistake. We will be having a conversation with them,'' Day said, referring to the poll workers.

She observed that the first question will be, "What were you thinking?"

Carlson said her campaign operation already has begun "reopening the boxes'' to get ready for an expected new election.

"In this case, there may be no other remedy," Carlson said. 

Also see Rachel Lippmann's report on KWMU.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.