Losing school board candidate contests results, only contest in state

Published 12:46 am Saturday, October 6, 2012

The municipal election results from Aug. 28 were canvassed one week later, but one candidate is saying not everything is said and done.

Phyllis Houser, who lost in race for Selma City School Board District 3, to incumbent Frank Chestnut Jr., has filed a lawsuit contesting the results.

On election night, Houser led Chestnut by 20 votes after each of the city’s 16 polling places had reported, but once the absentee ballots were counted, Chestnut had claimed victory by 200 votes.

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In the lawsuit, Houser and her attorney Lonnie A. Washington state that, “legal votes were offered and rejected which, if cast and counted, would increase the contestant’s number of legal votes to be greater than the contestee,” the statement of contest said.

It also makes accusations that illegal votes were cast, Chestnut is not eligible for the office, there was misconduct, fraud and/or corruption on the part of election officials and others that affected the outcome of the legal vote total.

“There were offers of bribes, bribery, intimidation and/or other malconduct calculated … all affecting the legal votes in this election,” the statement continues.

Julie Sinclair, attorney for the Alabama Secretary of State office, said this is the only election contesting case she has seen this year.

“Out of 438 municipalities that had August elections, this is the only race in which a candidate has actually filed an official contest of election,” Sinclair said. “I have heard grumblings — and you always hear those after an election — of several other races [filing complaints], but this is the only one that has actually filed for contest of election.”

According to the state code of elections, the contest of an election works just like a court case in that affidavits are required to be presented from those who witnessed wrongdoing in the voting system and the trial will go before a circuit judge.

“It used to be that only candidates could file contests, but in fact any qualified elector — which means any registered voter — can file an election contest if they feel that something improper has happened,” Sinclair said.

She also said that this particular case is a bench case, meaning no jury — just a judge decision. It can of course be appealed, and that appeal case would go straight to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Selma city attorney Jimmy Nunn said the city is not involved in the case unless either side subpoenas election records from the city, nor will there be a cost to the city if a recount or re-election is ordered. As part of the election contest rules, Houser has posted security for the election and any recount cost.

Both Houser and Chestnut declined to comment when contacted by The Selma Times-Journal.