More than 10 months after last year’s Coeur d’Alene City Council elections, a loser of a close race has:
A — officially gained one vote.
B — asked a judge to order a new election.
C — will still lose by one vote even if a judge decrees all the invalid ballots presented in evidence go his way.
D — sparked one of the most entertaining weeks in court via texting, blogs and Facebook.
Nearly a year ago, Jim Brannon collected 3,160 votes, falling five shy of unseating incumbent Mike Kennedy from the council. When a supporter noticed discrepancies in postelection ballot reports, Brannon filed a challenge that has run longer than Florida’s 2000 presidential recount and Minnesota’s 2008 Senate recount — combined.
For six days last week, large sheets of yellow, sticky-backed paper went up like wallpaper in the cramped courtroom as attorneys spent the week performing feats of addition and subtraction as they tried to show that wildly differing absentee ballot counts — drawn from election reports on different days — could not match (or, from Kennedy attorneys, could easily match) the 2,051 absentee ballots officially registered by Kootenai County’s ballot counting machine. During closing arguments Saturday, Judge Charles Hosack shook his head briskly side to side and blew air out of puffed cheeks like a cartoon character that had just been dunked in cold water.
“What does it even mean, 2,051?” he asked, looking at sheaves of numbers.
To Brannon’s attorney, Starr Kelso, the shifting tallies, the handful of invalid votes and a queasy peek into the “sausage-making” of running an election means … “Judge, order a new election.” Peter Erbland, representing Kennedy, summed up quite differently. “After five days of microscopic scrutiny …” Brannon is still one vote short at best.
“The challenge fails,” Erbland said. Losing by such a close margin can be aggravating, but it is not grounds for another election, Erbland argued. State law, he said, shows the challenge must show results that would change the outcome.
The trial became a social media sensation in the Lake City with gavel-to-gavel coverage on Facebook and two blogs — the Kennedy-friendly Spokesman-Review’s Huckleberries Online, and the Brannon-friendly http://www.OpenCdA.com.
Highlights included a 30-minute rant by Kelso that Hosack step down, a Brannon supporter ejected, a witness telling Kelso to “shove” some papers to a dark place and regular fashion updates on Huckleberries.
A ruling in the non-jury trial is expected next week at the earliest.
But military ballots went out Saturday, making it already too late for a do-over this November, Kootenai County Clerk Dan English says.