Opponents of South Washington County Schools’ $96 million bond are going to court over the measure that passed by just five votes.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Washington County District Court objects to decisions by a canvassing board that last week reviewed ballots that had been challenged during a recount of the district’s middle school construction bond request.
An 18-vote victory margin was narrowed to five votes after the canvassing board concluded 13 challenged ballots were “no” votes. Bond opponents claim in their election contest filing that the canvassing board did not follow the law in determining voter intent on another five ballots. Those five were deemed non-votes but opponents say they should have been declared “no” votes. Doing so would create a tie, killing the bond measure. There were more than 13,600 ballots cast in the Nov. 3 election.
The court challenge is sought by District 833 residents Andrea Mayer-Bruestle, Susan Richardson and Leilani Holmstadt.
“We believe that the case is legitimate,” Mayer-Bruestle said. “We believe in the integrity of the vote and that all five of those ballots, if you judge them based on the statute requirements, that they all should be ‘no’ votes.”
On four of the ballots, voters either marked on the word “NO” or filled in the “O” of the word “NO” to the right of the oval.
Attorney Erick Kaardal, representing the opponents, said in the filing that voter intent is clear on the four similar ballots. Kaardal argued the fifth ballot should be counted as a “no” vote because state law says when both ovals are filled and one oval is crossed out in an attempt to obliterate it, the remaining oval should be counted.
The school district has seven days to respond and a trial must begin within 20 days of the election contest filing.
District 833 officials said they look forward to a resolution in the near future.
“With varied interpretations of the law, as was evident through the work of the canvassing board, there is more than one view regarding the outcome of the reconsidered ballots,” according to a statement from Communications Director Barb Brown. “The district will follow through as needed to share a response regarding the challenge presented today. The district believes the canvassing board acted appropriately in its decision making on Nov. 24.”
Mayer-Bruestle said their group in just a few days raised the $5,000 needed as a bond for the election contest. She said many citizens support the effort to challenge the canvassing board decision and try to get the five votes counted.
“This is a community driven move,” she said. “We might be the names on there, but there’s a lot of people with us.”
View the five disputed ballots here.