A divided Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday ruled an election challenge by Jody Harris should rightly have been filed in Crawford County and the judge hearing the case in Franklin County had the authority to transfer it there.
Republican state House candidate Jody Harris asked the court to throw out primary election results in her seven-vote loss to Chad Puryear.
The race in House District 25 took place in three counties: Crawford, Franklin and Washington. The lawsuit disputes the count by the Crawford County Election Commission, but was filed in Franklin County, citing Arkansas law that says an election contest of a district office may be brought in any county in the district.
Certified results in all three counties together show Puryear winning 2,211 votes to Harris' 2,204 in the May 24 primary.
Harris' suit disputes the counting of absentee ballots in Crawford County. By law, the suit contends, absentee ballots should have been counted first, but weren't counted until other results were in and until a pro-Harris poll watcher demanded it. Then, they were mishandled while being counted, according to the suit. Those absentee ballots made the difference in the race, the suit contends.
The suit asks the court to void the House 25 race results, but doesn't seek specific relief beyond that.
The judge hearing the case in Franklin County ruled that the case should have been filed in Crawford County but then dismissed the case rather than transferring it there.
A majority of justices on the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said the judge was correct about where the case should be heard, but that he erroneously concluded he lacked the authority to transfer the matter.
"We reverse and remand for the circuit court to utilize its discretion in determining whether to grant Harris' motion to transfer," the court said.
Two justices, Rhonda K. Wood and Shawn A. Womack, wrote dissenting opinions. Both said they believe the case could be filed in Franklin County because it is a county within the election district, even if no wrongdoing was alleged to have occurred there.