The election results for the Barren County Democratic primary are finally final, with Micheal Hale as the winner.
Monday was the deadline by which Chris Steward would have had to pursue his election contest one more step, and as of approximately 2:30 Tuesday afternoon, the clerk’s office at the Kentucky Supreme Court had no record of receiving a request for it to conduct a discretionary review of the case.
A clerk’s office employee said the rules permit a document to be considered “timely filed” if it was sent by an expedited mail service by the deadline date, so it was conceivable it could still arrive.
Steward had said on Aug. 8 he was not going to take the case to the commonwealth’s highest court, and he confirmed to the Daily Times at the conclusion of Tuesday’s Barren County Fiscal Court meeting that he had not changed his mind.
“I’m going to the house; stick a fork in me, I’m done,” he said. “I haven’t changed my mind, and I feel free as a bird.”
Hale won the May 20 primary by just three more votes than Bud Tarry and 16 more than Steward. Tarry asked for a recanvass of the election-night tally, but that process yielded the same results. Steward then filed for a recount and election contest in Barren Circuit Court, but he wasn’t really concerned that the counted votes were inaccurately totaled.
Steward had strongly courted absentee voters and received considerably more absentee votes than any other candidate.
On election day, 27 mail-in absentee ballots were disqualified for various reasons by the board of elections. Some, for example, were missing signatures in one place or another; in four cases, the voter had died between the time their ballots were received at the county clerk’s office and the time for counting them, which is set by state law.
It was Steward’s contention those ballots should be opened and, provided that the intent of each of those voters was apparent, they should be counted. In a circuit court hearing, the outside of each of those 27 pieces of mail was examined and the reason stated for the rejection. Steward’s attorney, Matt Baker, and County Attorney Jeff Sharp, representing the Barren County Board of Elections as well as Joanne London, in her capacity as county clerk and member of the elections board, made their arguments as to why the court should or should not order them to be counted.
Afterward, Circuit Judge Phil Patton ruled that all 27 were appropriately disqualified. He ordered the clerk’s office to certify Hale as the winner.
Baker filed notice of intent to appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals, but the required supersedeas bond was posted after the deadline of 10 days after the circuit court ruling. The KCOA, after reviewing documents from both sides on the question of whether the case should go forward despite the tardiness of the bond posting, dismissed the case, noting that the bond must be filed before it has jurisdiction in the matter.
Steward then had the option of asking the Kentucky Supreme Court for a discretionary review of the case. Right off, he said it was unlikely he would, but he left the door slightly cracked to allow for the possibility – until the interview on Aug. 8.
Sharp has said previously that because Hale was certified as the winner per Patton’s order, Hale would be on the ballot for the general election unless another court ruled otherwise.
However, while the election contest was pending in the court system, the voting machines used in the primary election could not be reset and made ready for November, just in case there was any question about other votes further up the judicial line.
Sharp said Tuesday evening that the county clerk had just asked him earlier in the day whether it was safe to go ahead and reset the machines, and he had said it could be done once he confirmed there would be no further appeal.
After hearing of Steward’s confirmation he was done, Sharp said, “Now we can get on with the fall election. … I’m just happy we can get on with it.”
Hale and Honeycutt were at Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting as well.
Upon hearing of the confirmation of Steward’s final decision, Hale, who has plowed ahead with his campaign all along, said he was glad a conclusion to the race has been confirmed.
“I plan on moving forward, working hard and being the next county judge-executive,” Hale said. “I just want to thank all the candidates for running a good race. I’m happy with the results that are confirmed. I have been out in the county, meeting with folks, listening to what the Barren County residents want for our county. I will continue to do that. I am happy at the support that has been shown so far and I just ask for the county’s support in the November election.”
For Honeycutt, this means he knows for sure who his opponent is.
“I’m just glad that it’s over for Micheal,” Honeycutt said. “He’s kind of waited for some time now, and I think that this’ll clear the air for him and he can get on. I think he’s been actively working [as if it would] wind up this way anyhow, so it shouldn’t make much difference as far as his campaign goes. I’m sure it’s not any difference for mine.”
Honeycutt said his campaign would have been different with any one of the three top Democratic candidates, but he had been working on the assumption it would be Hale.
“I think everything’s worked out like we all thought,” Honeycutt said.