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Flyer Flashback: Election Result Challenges

The Flyer has covered many a challenge to the Shelby County Election Commission.

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What goes around comes around. You can say it that way, or you can say much the same thing in French.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. That's a little fancier, but let's face it: Each of these expressions is a cliché, and they each got that way for the simplest of reasons. Patterns of life don't change much. Or, to say it yet a third familiar way, there is nothing new under the sun, and there are only so many ways to express that fact.

As we go to press, the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC) — or, to be more exact, the county Election Administrator's office, which in theory is overseen by the Election Commission, is under suspicion again (again!) for not getting an election right.

A candidate for the Shelby County Commission is challenging the election commission's unofficial count, which showed him losing a primary action by 26 votes; his own count, derived from photostatted specimens of the tabulated print-outs from each precinct in his district, has him in an exact tie with the presumed winner. Either his or the SCEC's unofficial count is right. Maybe neither is. In any case, a fair amount of suspense was mounting in advance of  this week's planned election commission meeting to formally certify results.

Kevin Woods and Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr.
  • Kevin Woods and Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr.

We've been here before. In 1974, a box of precinct returns that had somehow gone missing turned up just in time to overturn the already declared outcome of a congressional race. And, in the 25 years of the Flyer's existence, uncertainty of election results has been a fact of life.  

In 2006, there was a challenge to several outcomes in the county general election, and in 2010, there was another. In the last case the challenge got hairy, indeed, going on for months as recorded in a score of Flyer articles. (Sample headline from September 17, 2010: "Election Protesters Turn Fury on Consolidation, Public Officials.")

Each of these situations required a court to rule, and, while the official results were sustained by a court in both of those years, that wasn't the case in 2012 when (sigh) it happened again. Precinct lines had been drawn wrong for a school board election, and this time, Chancellor Kenny Armstrong, as chronicled in an online Flyer article on Monday, August 19, 2013, declared  invalid (because uncertain) the narrow election victory of Kevin Woods over the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. in a battle of incumbents who had been forced to run for the same seat in the newly reconfigured Shelby County Schools (SCS) board.

Said His Honor: "The election commission here made no concerted effort to avoid the problems that occurred in this election for school board positions. ... These mistakes in assigning so many voters to incorrect school board districts cannot be simply ignored in an effort by the court to not take the step of declaring an election invalid."

So justice hath prevailed? Maybe, maybe not. Woods, who has gone on serving in the meantime and, in fact, got elected chairman of the SCS board, exercised his right to appeal that verdict, and that process is still underway. It may be that the current contest for the County Commission's district 10 will meander on for an equally prolonged period, which would really complicate the forthcoming August 7th general election between one of the contending Democrats and a Republican nominee.

Or maybe things got worked out at this week's election commission meeting, in which case we're all breathing a sigh, not of exasperation but of relief.

There is still too uncanny a resemblance between the election machines we've been using to choose our leaders and the slot machines some of us use to probe for weaknesses in the law of averages.  

Surely there's a better way to do this democracy thing, but if it keeps on turning up the same old seven and six in election after election, we're here to report the fact.


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