NORMAN — A Cleveland County judge Tuesday upheld the results of the contested state House District 45 race, denying Democratic challenger Paula Roberts' request for a new election.
Republic incumbent Aaron Stiles, 33, took the oath of office in an informal ceremony at the state Capitol about an hour after the ruling was issued by District Judge Tracy Schumacher.
“I'm just glad it's over. We've already put this behind us, and starting tonight, I will begin drafting bills. I'm ready to get to work,” Stiles said.
Roberts, 60, said she was disappointed with the ruling and had made no decision yet whether the case will be appealed.
“I still believe there were irregularities that warranted a new election, but the judge ruled otherwise,” said Roberts, who served as the Cleveland County Election Board secretary for 22 years before retiring last year.
“I'm tired, and I think I'm pretty much done, although I haven't talked to my attorneys. They are studying the ruling. I do want to thank the voters who supported me through this.”
Schumacher ruled that any problems that occurred in the election “likely occur in any election.”
The judge said evidence in the case indicated some votes cast in the race that were discounted probably should have been counted and, likewise, some votes that were counted probably should not have been.
However, the judge said, in both cases election officials counted, or didn't count, votes “based upon existing, current statutory and administrative law.”
Schumacher said she found no evidence of impropriety or fraud, although she cited evidence of “human error” in the case of two residents who were mailed the wrong absentee ballots. The couple voted in the HD 45 race, although they live in a different district.
The burden was on Roberts to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the election results would have been substantially different “but for the unlawful acts of public officials,” Schumacher wrote in a 26-page ruling that contained 25 pages of findings of fact and conclusions of law.
The judge said she found no evidence of unlawful acts, only some “troubling” instances where votes were or were not counted that should have been.
Stiles was declared the unofficial winner of the Nov. 6 election by an 18-vote margin.
That margin was narrowed to 16 votes in a Nov. 15 manual recount. The results of the recount were certified Tuesday by the State Election Board once they received Schumacher's ruling.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said election officials will review Schumacher's ruling.
“We definitely always want to make sure every vote counts,” he said. “We will take the judge's advice to heart.”
Stiles said he went straight to the Cleveland County Courthouse on Tuesday to check on the status of the legal challenge after attending a retreat in Medicine Park, near Lawton, with other GOP House members.
All but Stiles received a T-shirt with the number 72 on the back, indicating the record number of Republicans who will serve in the House when the session begins in February. Stiles said he will get his shirt Wednesday.
A formal swearing-in is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday in the House chambers.