A St. Louis circuit judge on Friday tossed out the results of a fiercely contested Aug. 2 Democratic primary and ordered a new election based exclusively on what may seem like an insignificant detail: the St. Louis Election Board accepted 142 absentee ballots without envelopes. But Judge Rex Burlison’s 22-page decision details the reasons why those envelopes are required by law and says the board can’t ignore or circumvent “tedious and specific” provisions. The decision gives Bruce Franks Jr., a 31-year-old activist who lost by 90 votes, another chance to unseat incumbent state Rep. Penny Hubbard, 62. It also casts doubt on the methods election authorities across the state use to count absentee votes when they are cast in person. “It’s the happiest I have been in a long time,” Franks said on Friday afternoon. “I’m so happy for the people … This is huge.”
The new election is scheduled for Sept. 16, but Hubbard’s attorney, Jane Dueker, said the decision will be appealed. In court this week, Franks’ attorney, Dave Roland, pointed to a number of other irregularities as he argued that at least 238 votes should have been rejected by the Election Board. But Burlison addressed only the state laws that provide specific steps for accepting, counting and challenging absentee votes.
As reported Sunday in the Post-Dispatch, those steps are always supposed to involve sealed envelopes. Franks received nearly 53 percent of votes cast at the polls on the day of the election, but Hubbard won 78.5 percent of the absentee ballots, giving her a 90-vote advantage in the final tabulation.