Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Royal Alexander: Caddo Sheriff Race Highlights the Need for Voting Requirements to be Followed to ‘Defend our Democracy

by BIZ Magazine

I have closely followed the Caddo Sheriff election and the legal challenge occurring now in Caddo Parish District Court.  The Nickelson Petition (lawsuit) is 80 pages long.  The first 14 pages of the suit contain the allegations of mistakes and irregularities.  Most of the remaining 66 pages contain numerous “Notation of Irregularities in the Conduct of the Election” prepared by poll commissioners who were working at the various precincts at which the alleged defects occurred. 

I note that since even before the 2020 presidential election, Louisianians and all Americans have witnessed first-hand the impact of so-called ‘voting irregularities’—such as those that were documented in all six of the major swing states in 2020—on the voters’ confidence in the result of our elections, from the presidential down to the local level.  That is why I believe the facts currently available in the public record and court filings concerning the Caddo Sheriff’s race demand judicial resolution and, potentially, a re-vote. 

The two candidates remain separated by only one vote, with Chief Henry Whitehorn prevailing.  As a result, his opponent, John Nickelson, filed suit challenging the validity and conduct of the election alleging it was “tainted with dubious votes, irregularities and a lack of procedure.”  

Unsurprisingly, the legal dispute centers upon whether certain voting requirements were followed and there is every indication they were not. 

For example, Nickelson’s legal counsel introduced documents reflecting that two people voted twice in the election.  After reviewing the documents, one witness stated at trial “it appears so” that they had voted twice.  Of these two individuals, one early voted in person then voted again on Election Day.  Another individual sent in an absentee ballot and then voted in person on Election Day.

Nickelson’s team also called Dale Sibley, Caddo Registrar of Voters, to testify about and focus upon the “flaps” or affidavits of 54 pulled ballots regarding why they had been flagged.  It was discovered that voter and/or witness signatures were missing.  In response, Sibley stated that his office policy is to err on the side of allowing a vote if the intent is clear.  Well, while that may be an admirable practice with which we can empathize, it likely doesn’t comport with the law.  If we are serious about ‘defending our democracy’ we must insist that only votes that are legally compliant be counted. 

The Whitehorn team’s principal argument has been that the allegedly defective absentee ballots were not objected to within the time required by law and, hence, they are waived.

The law requires that absentee ballots, for example, be handled and executed in a specific way for the simple but logical reason that the voter is not present in person voting at a voting machine.  As such, election officials have no way of knowing whether the absentee ballot they are reviewing is a valid vote without the requirement that it be correctly signed and witnessed. 

I think it is likely that there are almost always some mistakes or irregularities in every election, but not enough to change the outcome.  However, with only a one vote margin, even one single mistake could change the outcome. 

I attended the trial of this matter last week and, while I don’t know how Judge Bleich viewed the trial and will rule after he receives and reviews the post-trial briefs of both parties, I do feel that the Nickelson team carried its legal burden of proving that with a one vote margin “it is impossible to determine the result” of the election, and that a new runoff election should be ordered. (LA. R.S. 18:1432).

I emphasize that were the margin of victory here greater than one single, solitary vote the error or mistake might be deemed “harmless error” if it would not alter the outcome of the election.  However, with a one vote margin, if even one of the numerous alleged mistakes and/or irregularities is true, the election outcome changes.

The right to vote and the necessity to have all legal votes count equally with that of every other voter is not only one of our fundamental constitutional rights but is also the right that is preservative of all our other rights.   It is a sacred right for which over a million Americans fought and died throughout America’s military history.  That is why we must demand that the election safeguards put into place by law are scrupulously followed in this case. 

Shreveport attorney, Royal Alexander, worked in D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 8 years for two different Members of Congress from Louisiana. 

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