Judge Nullifies Election Over Illegal Votes

After all the votes were counted, one candidate was ahead by a single vote.
Judge Nullifies Election Over Illegal Votes
Empty envelopes of opened vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary election are stacked on a table at King County Elections in Renton, Washington, on March 10, 2020. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

A judge in Louisiana on Dec. 5 nullified an election, ruling that multiple votes were illegally cast and that those called into question the results.

“It was confirmed by witness testimony that two individuals voted twice, or ‘double voted,’ and that at least four individuals who were then and currently fully interdicted cast ballots in person the day of the election,” Judge Joe Bleich wrote in the ruling. “It was further confirmed by testimony that several accepted absentee or mail-in ballots did not comply with Louisiana law, and should have been rejected.”

Altogether, at least 11 votes were counted that shouldn’t have been in the race, which was for the position of sheriff for Caddo Parish, the judge said.

“It is legally impossible to know what the true vote should have been,” he wrote.

Caddo Parish Clerk of Court Mike Spence had told news outlets that two people voted twice. Sherri Hadskey, commissioner of elections for the Louisiana secretary of state’s office, confirmed the double votes.

Mr. Spence also confirmed that four people who were unable to make decisions, or declared as full interdicts, voted.

The judge ordered a new runoff election in the sheriff’s race between Henry Whitehorn, a Democrat, and John Nickelson, a Republican.

More than 43,000 votes were cast in the race.

Before the legal case was brought by Mr. Nickelson, the tally showed Mr. Whitehorn ahead by a single vote. A recount by machine ended with a one-vote difference.

Mr. Nickelson requested a hand recount, but the request was rejected by the Board of Election Supervisors.

He then filed a lawsuit, urging the court to throw out the results of the election and order a new one.

Mr. Nickelson told a briefing that a review of a sample of ballots uncovered irregularities.

“Many—dozens at a minimum—in the small sample of ballots we were able to inspect in the short time we had of these certificates had no signatures at all,” he said. “In other words, ballots had been submitted without a voter signing it.”

Evidence introduced in court backed up that some accepted absentee ballots lacked witness signatures, according to the new ruling. The judge said he personally examined five ballots that were defective but still counted in the final results.

Under state law, candidates can ask for new elections. Judges can order a new election if he or she determines “it is impossible to determine the result of election ... or the number of unqualified voters who were allowed to vote by the election officials was sufficient to change the result of the election if they had not been allowed to vote.”

Mr. Whitehorn had opposed the request.

“The judiciary should not decide elections. Louisiana courts have made it clear that the results of an election are to be disturbed only under extraordinary circumstances where a plaintiff introduces compelling evidence that is sufficient to change the result in the election,” he said in a brief to the court.

The judge said that the evidence in the case meant that it was “impossible to determine the results of this election.”

A new election “is necessary not only for the candidates, but also to ensure the public’s right to untainted election results,” he said.

Judge Bleich made the ruling after four judges recused themselves because they’re friends with Mr. Nickelson, KTAL reported. Judge Bleich, who’s retired, was assigned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Mr. Whitehorn said in a statement that he was disappointed with the decision.

“I was always taught that the person with the most votes wins, even if that’s by a thousand votes or by one vote. I was also taught that when we go to school and get an education, gain experience in our chosen field, and become qualified in what we do, we will have the best opportunity to be successful. But it seems as though the rules of the game are different depending on who the players are,” he said.

“I won the sheriff’s race, not once but twice. My opponent conveniently chose to question the integrity of the election only after he lost, not once but twice. In elections, you should not be given a redo simply because you are unhappy with the results.”

Mr. Whitehorn said he’s pursuing an appeal, but if that fails, he’s confident he will prevail in a new election.

Mr. Nickelson said in a statement that he was humbled and grateful for the ruling.

“The court’s ruling is a victory for election integrity, and we should all be confident that in March the voters of Caddo Parish will make their voices heard definitively on who should be the next sheriff of our parish,” he said. “I plan to work doubly hard to make sure that every voter knows why our vision for Caddo Parish as a safer, stronger community is worthy of their vote.”