On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously voided the results of a special election for a state House seat in Tulsa. The court’s order came after a series of problems cast doubt on the true outcome of the election. … The Court, after reviewing the “totality of the evidence presented,” found it “impossible to determine with mathematical certainty which candidate is entitled to a certificate of election” and thus voided the election entirely. In the wake of the order – and due to the delays occasioned by the case – the state board of elections is going to keep the seat vacant until it can be filled at this November’s general election.
A few observations:
1. While it appears that the Tulsa board didn’t necessarily cover itself in glory (indeed, the Court took a dig to that effect in its order), one has to agree that two separate problems that put a very close result in doubt in two different directions is the very definition of a bad-luck nightmare for any election official;
2. The Tulsa case may prompt the state legislature to look at whether and how to update its procedures to keep pace with new voting machines – and resolve disputed elections more quickly (as we discussed last week in Minnesota); and
3. Generally, courts don’t like to pick winners unless the election is clear. In this case, the court was essentially willing to throw up its hands rather than risk picking the wrong winner. The lesson here is that – unlike in other disputes – judges are not necessarily going to come to the rescue when other procedures break down.