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Oklahoma Supreme Court tosses out special House District 71 election results

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: May 1, 2012

The state House District 71 seat in Tulsa, which hasn't been filled since December, will remain vacant until voters elect a winner in November.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday threw out the results of the April 3 special election, in which Democrat Dan Arthrell won by three votes.

A manual recount of the votes a week later showed Republican candidate Katie Henke won by a single vote. But shortly after the Tulsa County Election Board certified the recount results, two ballots — both cast for Arthrell — were found by precinct workers, which if counted, would have made him the winner by one vote.

“It is impossible to determine with mathematical certainty which candidate is entitled to a certificate of election,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor wrote in a brief order.

The vote was 8-0, with Justice John Reif recusing.

The justices' ruling was based on the evidence presented during a hearing last week and on the failure of the Tulsa County Election Board to comply with election code requirements, Taylor wrote.

“Therefore, the certificate of election issued by the Tulsa County Election Board is invalidated and the election is void,” Taylor wrote.

Seat won't be filled

Vacancies in the Legislature that occur this late in an election year are not filled by a special election because there isn't enough time to have an election before the November general election. The filing period for the Nov. 6 election was April 11-13.

The high court agreed Monday to take jurisdiction in the case, a couple days after attorneys for both candidates asked for the Supreme Court to step in and act quickly.

Both candidates, however, asked that the justices declare one of them the winner so House District 71 constituents would be represented at the state Capitol during the final month of this year's session.

The session is to end the last Friday in May; lawmakers still have to approve a state budget for the 2013 fiscal year and agree on whether to reduce the personal income tax rate next year.

Arthrell asked the Supreme Court to count the two ballots marked for him that were found after the recount, or if it was troubled by those ballots, to approve the April 3 election results.

Henke requested the high court uphold the recount's findings.

Both Henke and Arthrell filed last month for the House District 71 seat. Arthrell is unopposed in the June 26 Democratic primary election while Henke is opposed by Republican Evelyn L. Rogers, of Tulsa. Voters will fill the House District 71 seat in the Nov. 6 general election; the winner will succeed Republican Dan Sullivan, who resigned in December to become chief executive officer of the Grand River Dam Authority.

Republicans will continue to have a 66-32 majority in the House.

Two other seats in the 101-member chamber are also vacant until after the Nov. 6 elections.

Deflated by ruling

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It is impossible to determine with mathematical certainty which candidate is entitled to a certificate of election.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice

Steven Taylor


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