PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Dec. 4, 2008) — Pulaski County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer said during Thursday’s county commission meeting that she wasn’t surprised by former sheriff J.T. Roberts’ request for a recount, but was surprised by his call for a new election.
County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer explains her conduct of the Nov. 4 election at Thursday's Pulaski County Commission meeting.
“I have no problem with a recount; it’s his right,” Linnenbringer said. “I figured 4:15 p.m. Friday; it surprised me he brought it in a few days early.”
Roberts could have filed his recount request as late as Friday, Dec. 5, and state law allows automatic recounts when requested by the losing candidate in a race decided by less than 1 percent of the vote. Roberts lost by a narrow margin of 38 votes; the 1 percent margin would have been 128 votes of the 12,844 ballots cast.
However, Roberts asked for more than a recount. In court papers filed Wednesday, he accused Linnenbringer, who has served six years as county clerk, of numerous irregularities in her conduct of the Nov. 4 general election in which Roberts, a Democrat living north of Waynesville, was defeated by the incumbent, Sheriff J.B. King, a Waynesville Republican. Roberts had served three four-year terms as sheriff before his 2004 defeat.
Linnenbringer’s own victories were by much wider margins.
In the 2002 general election, Linnenbringer, a Waynesville Republican, soundly defeated the long-term incumbent Democrat county clerk, Stephanie Leuthen of Crocker; in 2006, she had the highest margin of victory of any elected official with a contested race in Pulaski County except U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton.
Responding to questions Thursday morning from the commissioners, Linnenbringer said the court case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tracy Storie for processing.
No court date has yet been set and Linnenbringer has 30 days to respond. It’s not clear that Storie or any other local judge will handle the case, however.
“If they’re smart they’d recuse themselves. I would think they’d want somebody from the outside to make that decision,” said Commissioner Dennis Thornsberry.
Commissioner Bill Farnham asked Linnenbringer to explain the procedure for verifying election results.
“A lot of people don’t understand that when the secretary of state certified the election, they thought everything was over and done with,” Farnham said.
Roberts’ court documents state that Linnenbringer changed her reported numbers in the sheriff’s race several times.
Linnenbringer reported on election night, Nov. 4, that 12,847 votes were cast with King winning by a margin of 37 votes or 6,442 for King and 6,405 for Roberts. She then reported the day after the election that King won by a margin of 40 votes with King receiving 6,440 votes and Roberts receiving 6,400 votes out of a total of 12,840 votes, and finally certified a vote total of 12,844 votes with King winning by a margin of 38 votes with 6,441 for King and 6,403 for Roberts.
Speaking after the commissioners adjourned, Linnenbringer said it’s not unusual for the precise numbers to vary slightly after the initial unofficial results are announced on election night.
The single biggest cause for numerical changes, Linnenbringer said, is the use of DREs — special “touch screen” voting equipment that is most commonly used by handicapped people who can’t see the paper ballot or can’t use a pen to mark the ballot.
“The night of the election, that is all unofficial because it doesn’t have the DRE’s in it,” Linnenbringer said. “That is just the optic scan second-chance voting equipment.”
This year, hundreds of DRE votes were cast, but virtually all were by military voters on election day in the St. Robert precinct who weren’t previously registered and cast a special federal ballot that doesn’t include local or state races such as the sheriff’s race.
The difference between the second and third vote total happened because of an error involving DREs, Linnenbringer said. She was out of town on county business on the Thursday after the election when requests were made for the final totals.
“On Thursday people wanted the official totals; I asked if the DREs were in there, and I found out that they weren’t all in,” Linnenbringer said. “That is inexcusable.”
Even though the numbers varied, the difference in the total number of ballots was only four votes and only reduced King’s margin of victory from 40 to 38 votes, she said.
Linnenbringer said she regretted the accusations made against her work and said she stood by the results of the election.
“I feel that we conducted that election in the fairest and the proper way,” Linnenbringer said. “We’ve conducted this election just as we conducted the other elections, including the August primary.”
When Linnenbringer first ran for office in 2002, she admitted that her background was in office administration for airlines and oil companies, not conducting elections. However, she said she’s attended numerous classes for county clerks since she was elected and has relied extensively on assistants in her office who had worked on elections for many years before she was elected.
“The ladies in this office that had been here for a number of years certainly guided me for a number of years. They worked very hard,” Linnenbringer said.
While Roberts is being represented by the same Springfield-based attorneys who represented him in an earlier lawsuit against the county when he was the sheriff, it’s not yet clear whether Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Hooper or a special attorney will represent Pulaski County in responding to Roberts’ accusations.
In the past, county commissioners have sometimes sought outside attorneys with special expertise or relied on the attorney of the Missouri Association of Counties to represent them in complex cases.
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