The Christian County Board of Elections met for about 15 minutes in closed session Thursday morning after three of the four members agreed they should talk privately about the Ward 7 city council race between Republicans Doug Wilcox and Mark Graham.
No action was taken following the closed session, and it appears the next step in determining a winner from the primary will be a hearing next week before Christian Circuit Judge John Atkins. The judge has scheduled a status hearing at noon on June 1 concerning legal petitions from Graham and County Clerk Mike Kem seeking to resolve the race.
At the start of the Board of Elections meeting, Hoptown Chronicle asked the panel to not meet in closed session. Jennifer P. Brown, editor of this news outlet, read from a prepared statement that questioned the need to discuss the matter in private. She said the public would be better served if the board met in open session.
“To my understanding, this legal matter is about asking the circuit court for direction — for the best remedy to determine who won this race. I don’t believe that is the kind of contentious lawsuit that we typically see as a reason for a closed session,” Brown said.
Board member Jason Newby said he agreed and voted against going into closed session.
However, the Kentucky Open Meetings Act does permit closed sessions to discuss proposed or pending litigation involving a public agency, and County Attorney John T. Soyars recommended the board go into closed session. Kem and the other two board members, Philip Eastman and Jim Gardner, voted to go into closed session. Kem said they needed to discuss a “sensitive” matter.
The Ward 7 council race was flawed, election officials have said, because of a software error that resulted in 109 ballots being issued to voters from Ward 8, who were not eligible to cast ballots in the race between Graham and Wilcox.
In the unofficial results released on election night, Wilcox had one more vote than Graham with a 185-184 tally.
Based on the clerk’s assertion that 109 ineligible votes were cast, that leaves 260 votes that were cast by eligible voters.
It remains unclear if election officials will be able to separate out the eligible votes to determine the winner, or if a revote will have to be conducted.
Both Graham and Kem have filed petitions in Christian Circuit Court seeking to resolve the council race.
Attorney Ben Fletcher filed the petition for Graham. Wilcox issued a statement through his attorney, James Adams III, saying he believed it was premature to talk about a revote in the election.
Following the Board of Elections meeting, Soyars and Christian County Sheriff Tyler DeArmond addressed questions about an order that Atkins issued Wednesday to transfer “custody of all voting machines, voting equipment, or voting system, the ballots, ballot boxes, and all papers pertaining to the May 17, 2022, primary election at precinct G104” to the circuit court.
The ballot boxes are already at the Christian County Justice Center in an area that remains under video surveillance, said DeArmond.
The sheriff said other materials covered by the order, such as electronic tablets used by poll workers, were being transferred from the old courthouse to the justice center on Thursday.