NORMAN (AP) — A Cleveland County judge ordered a manual recount Thursday in a race for a state House seat in Norman that was decided by just 18 votes, but she delayed until next week a hearing on whether there were irregularities in the election.
District Judge Tracy Schumacher told election officials to begin manually counting the more than 13,500 ballots inside her courtroom, a process officials said could take up to seven hours.
Democratic challenger Paula Roberts requested the recount after preliminary results showed she lost to Republican state Rep. Aaron Stiles by 18 votes.
“We believe every vote that was cast should be counted, and that's what we want to see done,” said Roberts, who served as Cleveland County's Election Board secretary for 22 years. “We believe in the process.”
Cleveland County Election Board Secretary Jim Williams said six teams of four election officials each will count the ballots, and the three-member board will rule on any ballots over which there is a dispute. The sheriff's office oversaw the transfer of ballots from the election board office to the courtroom.
Roberts also alleged in a separate petition 10 separate irregularities she claims make it “impossible to determine with mathematical certainty which candidate is entitled to a certificate of election.” Among the allegations is that ineligible voters were allowed to cast ballots while some validly registered voters were not. She also alleges that absentee ballots were improperly secured and that mistakes were made with both provisional ballots and voting machines.
“What they've done is that they feel the vote is so close they're just trying to throw everything plus the kitchen sink and trying to do a fishing expedition just to find something,” said Stiles, who is seeking his second term in office.
Williams has acknowledged his office made mistakes after a box containing 60 absentee ballots was discovered two days after the Nov. 6 election. However, after those ballots were counted, the 18-vote margin was unchanged.
Schumacher will hear arguments in the petition for irregularities on Tuesday, and one possible outcome could be that she orders a new election.
“You either have a winner or you have a new election,” said Assistant District Attorney Carol Dillingham, who represents the election board in the hearings.
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy