Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

June 24, 2014

Chris Steward: Several reasons to appeal Barren Circuit Court ruling

By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Chris Steward said his decision to appeal a Barren Circuit Court ruling that upheld the result of the May primary election in the Democratic race for Barren County judge-executive is based on a combination of factors.

Most notably, Steward – who finished third in the primary – said he feels he owes it to voters who supported his candidacy.

“I had some people who would walk through the fires of hell to support me, and I have people who would walk through the fires of hell to kill me, but I am working for the ones who would walk through the fires of hell to support me,” he said Monday.

Steward said he’s always pulled for underdogs – people with no voice who don’t get much attention.

“That’s always been my people,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve been taught, to always be mindful of people.”

Initially, Steward said he had virtually no interest in pursuing the appeal after Circuit Judge Phillip Patton ruled June 12 that 27 mail-in absentee ballots were correctly disqualified. Steward, who held a commanding lead in mail-in absentee voting in the race, argues that the ballots were improperly rejected.

Steward received 16 votes behind apparent winner Micheal Hale. Bud Tarry was second, three votes behind Hale.

A recanvass in the race, requested by Tarry, yielded no change in the election-night results. Neither did a recount requested by Steward nor the election contest that resulted in Patton’s ruling.

Four of the rejected ballots were disqualified by the Barren County Board of Elections because the voters died before the ballots were counted May 20. The others were rejected mostly for various failures to follow the instructions – although in one case, the ballot apparently never reached the intended voter, because it was returned to the Barren County Clerk’s office with an insufficient address notice.

While the names of the voters on the rejected ballots were read in court June 12, the ballots were not opened. Whether any include votes for candidates in the Democratic judge-executive race is unknown.

Immediately after the court proceeding, Steward told reporters: “I do not think I will appeal it. I think it would be an exercise in frustration. I will talk to my counsel before I make that final decision, but I don’t think I will.”

A few hours later, Steward told the Daily Times he was 99 percent certain he would not appeal the decision.

“Unless the heavens open up and I get a voice from somebody, I’m not going to appeal,” he said. “I’ve never had that happen in 62 years, and I don’t expect it now.”

On Monday, when Steward returned calls made by the Daily Times on Friday – the day his attorney filed the notice of appeal – Steward said he neither heard a voice nor saw the heavens open. Instead, he just changed his mind.

After the court trial, he said, “I got to thinking, ‘Damn it, I don’t want to deal with this anymore.’ “

Steward, a dentist and nurse practitioner, wanted to just go home and focus on his health care work and family, he said. But then he heard from supporters who claimed to have cast some of the rejected ballots.

In one case, a woman called and said she had not signed in one of the required places, while her husband was among the four who died.

The woman was upset and crying “like she caused me to lose the election. ... I had to console her, and, bless her heart, I felt so bad for her,” Steward said. “So there’s two votes for me I know are sitting there.”

He said he also heard from another widow of one of the deceased voters and from fellow church members. The widow is Republican, so she couldn’t have voted for Steward, he said, but she told him her husband had voted for him. Steward said he also got two calls from people among the 27 whose votes were not counted that “weren’t quite as emotional,” although one person was “very, very grieved.”

On Friday, Steward called his attorney, Matt Baker. Steward said Baker, who had served as a judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals, told him that while the circuit court must follow existing law and case precedents, the appellate court can consider broader issues such as constitutionality.

“I have not even a thought of hard feelings toward (Patton),” Steward said. “(But Baker) thinks he’s got a statute that indicates that the intent of every voter should count and the intent of every voter should be validated. If it’s not, so be it, I’ve given it my best shot, and that would be the end of it.”