The St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners violated Missouri Sunshine law when they failed to fulfill a request for David Roland, a lawyer representing political newcomer and local activist Bruce Franks Jr., a circuit court judge ruled on Tuesday, August 23.
“Accordingly, It is declared that defendants violated the law when they failed to furnish Mr. Roland with the copies of the ballot applications and ballot envelopes that he had requested,” St. Louis Circuit Judge Julian L. Bush wrote in his partial judgment.
In the Democratic primary on August 2, Franks lost in House District 78 to incumbent Penny Hubbard by 90 votes. Based on unofficial election results, Bruce received 1,992 votes to Hubbard’s 1,776. If it had not been for the considerable 414 absentee votes Hubbard received, Franks would’ve won the election. Hubbard received 78 percent of absentee ballots cast.
“Although I am very pleased with this ruling and with how quickly Judge Bush issued it, there is still the outstanding question of whether the board and its members acted knowingly or purposefully when they committed this violation,” Roland told The American via email.
Prior to the primary election, Franks hired lawyer Roland to investigate the disproportionate number of absentee ballots filed whenever Hubbard, her husband Rodney Hubbard – 5th Ward committeeman and longtime North Side power broker – or one of their children campaign for office. The average amount of absentee ballots per precinct is 2 to 10 percent, but when the Hubbards run for office, the number of absentee ballots in their races inflates to 20 percent or more, according to Roland.
In July, Roland filed a sunshine request with the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners to examine the absentee ballot applications. This was after Roland wrote to the board about his concerns on absentees.
In Roland’s first letter, he asked the election authority to look over ballot applications in the 5th Ward, appoint teams to witness the signing of voter’s applications and the voting and returning of ballots.
Instead of showing concern about the alarming presence of absentee ballots surrounding the Hubbards, the election authority lawyers responded in a letter that scolded Roland’s request for making demands that go “far beyond anything required of the board.”
Also in the letter, the commissioners’ lawyers, David Sweeney and Celeste Dodson, claimed that Roland’s demands would “intrude on individual voters’ rights and could amount to acts of voter suppression by the board.”
In response, Roland filed a sunshine request for copies of absentee ballot applications and envelopes, which Sweeney and Dodson denied.
When denying Roland’s request, the commission’s lawyers pointed to Missouri Statute section 115.493 RSMo, which says “processed ballot materials in write-in forms” are not to be inspected by anyone for 22 months after an election. Bush wrote in his judgment that the phrase “processed ballot materials in write-in forms” is “awkward at best and gobbledygook at worse, and it is certainly not self-evident that absentee ballot envelopes are such things.”
Bush ruled that the absentee envelopes should have been granted to Roland.
“I am hopeful that finally having access to these records will help Bruce Franks and I demonstrate that, due to unlawful use of the absentee balloting system, there is significant doubt as to the legitimacy of Penny Hubbard's 90-vote margin of victory in the August 2 primary to choose the Democratic nominee to serve the 78th House District,” Roland said.
Last week, Franks filed a lawsuit stating that nearly 300 of the absentee votes cast were not qualified.
On Monday, August 25, Judge Bush put a hold on a special election re-vote sought by Franks for the state representative race until the Missouri secretary of state’s office certifies the August 2 primary election results.