Lots more happened after I wrote this early this morning. Bottom line: Ashley Hudson certified as the winner of House District 32 over Republican Rep. Jim Sorvillo, but a court challenge will continue:
Circuit Judge Mary McGowan ended up with the case by Republican Rep. Jim Sorvillo attempting to set aside the election of Democrat Ashley Hudson to his seat by 24 votes.
The Election Commission held off certifying this race Monday after learning of Sorvillo’s 11th-hour lawsuit. He says the results aren’t curable because they include 32 disqualified absentee ballots added to the total.
No hearing has been set yet on Sorvillo’s request for an order to block certification of the results at the Pulaski County Election Commission tonight. Hudson has filed to intervene in the lawsuit and says it is not ripe for a decison because state law says a challenge to an election outcome is to be made after certification.
The Election Commission, with two Republicans holding the majority, may have to make a decision tonight without court intervention. It has created an unfortunate appearance, denying a victory to Hudson, 24-vote Democratic winner in a race with 32 disqualified (and preferences known) ballots, while certifying the victory of Republican Rep. Carlton Wing by a 16-vote margin over Democrat Matthew Stallings in a race with 38 disqualified votes. It is hard not to view the differing decisions by Republican Commissioners Evelyn Gomez and Kristi Stahr through anything but a partisan lens.
Stahr further stained the democratic process Monday night by raising a litany of unverified claims about vote fraud. She also had to be corrected on aspects of election law by the county attorney.
UPDATE: Curious goings-on in this case. Judge McGowan filed an order this morning saying an “unknown caller”: had called the clerk’s office to reassign the case from her court because she had recused. She had not recused or indicated to anyone that she planned to do so. She wrote:
The explanation that “an unknown caller” told the Deputy Clerk to reassign the case is incredulous at best and does nothing to insure that cases are to be randomly assigned by a computer without a person interfering with the random selection. This Court urges the Clerk of the Court to further investigate how a Deputy Clerk is allowed to remove a Circuit Court from the random assignment of cases based on an “unknown caller” telling her to do so.
Nonetheless, shortly after 1 p.m., she recused from the case to avoid any appearance of impropriety and ordered that it be reassigned. Judges Alice Gray and Chip Welch (Hudson’s father) had recused earlier.
Judge Wendell Griffen now has the case. No hearing is set. The county attorney has responded that no temporary order halting certification is necessary because the law allows a candidate to contest an election certification within 20 days after certification. It is mandatory that the election commission complete certification of election results today
UPDATE: Faced with the clear court precedent outlined in court filings, the Pulaski County Election Commission voted tonight to certify the results with Hudson the winner by 24 votes.
Sorvillo will still be able to pursue his lawsuit. And he undoubtedly will. There also will be time for a Democrat in North Little Rock, Matthew Stallings, to echo Sorvillo’s complaint about the counting of invalidated ballots. He trailed Republican Rep. Carlton Wing by 16 votes in a tally that included 38 invalidated ballots. There were 32 invalidated ballots in the District 32 race.
Judge Griffen did hear from partiesthis afternoon in the lawsuit before the Election Commission meeting. The Court Connect record notes that he agreed the case wasn’t ripe for consideration until the commission had certified the election. Significantly, he ruled against Secretary of State John Thurston’s argument that the case should be decided by the state Claims Commission (incidentally controlled by Republicans.) Griffen ruled that jurisdiction lies in circuit court. He also refused a request for a stay pending an appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
More to come.