LITTLE ROCK A judge has ruled a special election held to determine the Democratic nominee for sheriff in Stone County was legally unauthorized and therefore void, calling into question whether the party will have a nominee on the ballot in November.
Republican sheriff nominee Russ Aiken filed the suit, which claimed Gov. Mike Beebe was not authorized to call the new vote in the wake of a June 8 runoff in which the two Democratic candidates tied with 1,383 tallies each.
After more than an hour-and-a-half of arguments by attorneys for Aiken, Democratic special election winner Lance Bonds, the Stone County Election Commission and the governor, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Jay Moody ruled Monday the statute did not allow Beebe to call a special election in the event of a tie.
Aiken’s attorney, Charles Kester of Fayetteville, argued Arkansas code lists only four vacancies in office for which a special election can be called: death, serious illness, moving from the area or filing for another office. Bonds' attorney, William G. Almand of Little Rock, said those reasons applied only if there was a majority winner and that a separate section of the code also stipulates a tie as a vacancy in office.
Daniel Brightwell, the attorney representing the county Election Commission, characterized the issue as "one candidate trying to keep another candidate off the ballot." He said in his arguments that disallowing the election would disenfranchise the Stone County voters who picked Bonds as the nominee. He urged Moody to rule the vote was legal.
"That's the American way," Brightwell said. "That's what we want to uphold."
Speaking afterward, Kester said the lawsuit avoided voter disenfranchisement by resolving the ballot issues before November. He said Brightwell's argument carried no weight.
"I think that's absolutely incorrect," Kester said. "What happens here is the voters can vote for Mr. Aiken, they can vote for a write-in candidate, they can vote for whoever they want who is properly on the ballot.
After the hearing, Kester and Almand both expressed confidence they would be successful as the case is heard by higher courts.
Moody said he would "work hard and fast to get (the case) to the next level" so an appeal can be heard before the November election.