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Stenger Still Wins In Recount Of County Executive Contest

Steve Stenger, left, and Rick Stream
Parth Shah | St. Louis Public Radio intern

(Updated 10 p.m. Tues., Dec. 30)

The St. Louis County Election Board assigned 50 employees this week to conduct a court-ordered recount of the votes cast Nov. 4 in the tight battle for county executive. The election was narrowly won by Democrat Steve Stenger, who defeated Republican Rick Stream.

And when the recount was complete, Stenger still won.

The board fulfilled the aim of the candidates and the court to have the recount completed, and the results public, before Stenger is sworn in at noon Thursday,  New Year’s Day, as county executive.

Although the board has yet to announce its findings, the candidates' campaigns — who had representatives present for the recount — said late Tuesday that Stream ended up collecting a few dozen additional votes.  Stream's campaign say he gained 42 votes, while Stenger's camp puts the number at 39.

In any case, either number is well below the number needed. The certified count filed with the secretary of state's office in December had Stream behind by  1,854 votes out of about 300,000 cast.

The election workers had been split into three teams. Each team was assigned to one task — to recount the votes cast on the county’s electronic voting machines, the paper ballots tallied by special scanners, or the absentee votes cast by machine or on paper.

Most of the workers’ attention centered on about 250 paper ballots, tallied by the scanners, that showed the voter either cast no vote for county executive or cast votes for more than one candidates. The scanning machine won’t record a vote under either scenario, officially known as an “undervote’’ or “overvote.”

The added votes for Stream are believed to have come from those paper ballots.

Republican elections director Gary Fuhr, who was overseeing the recount, said earlier that workers were to  examine each undervote/overvote paper ballot to determine if the voter had actually chosen a candidate.

“Any questionables they’re bringing to the attention of the directors and their deputies to make a determination of voter intent in compliance with existing law,” Fuhr said. “We share those questions with the attorneys from each of the campaigns and the independent observers, just so they can see what the issue is and the determination we’re making in case they want to challenge it later.”

In any case, the Stream camp privately acknowledged from the get-go that the addition of any undervote/overvote ballots — even if they all went to Stream —  wouldn’t be enough to overturn the election results.

The chief aim, a Stream spokesman had repeatedly emphasized, was to encourage improvements in the Election Board’s procedures.

Said the Stream campaign in a statement late Tuesday:

"We conducted the recount at our cost to ensure for the people of St. Louis County that every vote cast was counted properly.  We also wanted to identify problems in the County’s election system that continues to jeopardize the integrity and accuracy of elections. We believe it is necessary and constructive to review the information and findings from the recount, and numerous election complaints and compile recommendations for changes to improve the system. We will work with the Stenger administration and the legislature to make critical changes to improve the accuracy and integrity in future elections."

Even before the recount was completed, Stream apparently had assumed that he was unlikely to overtake Stenger in the recounted tally.

Early Monday, Stream stunned his campaign when he inadvertently told KMOX radio host John Hancock — a fellow Republican and party activist — that he plans to run for the state Senate in 2016.  Stream wasn't supposed to go public until next month, an associate said.

Stream is retiring from the Missouri House in a couple weeks. His new aim is to win election to the 15th District state Senate seat now held by fellow Republican Eric Schmitt of Glendale.  Schmitt, who is leaving because of term limits, already has announced his statewide bid in 2016 to become Missouri treasurer.

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