Louisiana Supreme Court Justice E. Joseph Bleich declared the results of an incredibly tight 2023 election race null and void on Tuesday.
Democrat Henry Whitehorn seemed to have beaten Republican opponent John Nickelson by a single vote in the Nov. 18 runoff election for the Caddo Parish Sheriff election. Officials confirmed three extra votes for each candidate throughout the recount, and Whitehorn stayed one vote ahead of his opponent.
Nickelson filed a lawsuit, asking a fresh election and contesting the results. He said that the procedure was hurried and that illegal ballots were cast in the election. Several persons were discovered to have voted both by mail and in person.
Whitehorn stated in a brief filed with the First Judicial District Court, “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.”
Because of their associations with Nickelson, four judges recused themselves from the case. The case was handed to Justice Bleich by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
On December 5, he declared the runoff election results null and invalid and ordered a fresh election. Whitehorn’s team will almost certainly appeal the judgment.
In his ruling, Justice Bleich stated, “This runoff election involved a one-vote margin. It was proven beyond any doubt that there were at least 11 illegal votes cast and counted. It is legally impossible to know what the true vote should have been.”
Scott Presler, an election activist and reform advocate, heralded the news on Tuesday.
Remember when I posted about the recount in the Louisiana Caddo Parish sheriff election — which was won by 1 vote?
A judge just ruled the election results are void.
Justice Bleich said at least 11 illegal votes were cast & counted.https://t.co/axFFeXwvw4
— #ThePersistence (@ScottPresler) December 5, 2023
“Remember when I posted about the recount in the Louisiana Caddo Parish sheriff election — which was won by 1 vote?” Presler asked. “A judge just ruled the election results are void. Justice Bleich said at least 11 illegal votes were cast & counted.”
John Nickelson, the Republican candidate, announced earlier on social media that he had requested a recount.
“This extraordinarily narrow margin … absolutely requires a hand recount to protect the integrity of our democratic process, and to ensure we respect the will of the people,” John Nickelson, the Republican candidate who trailed by one vote in last week’s election for Caddo Parish Sheriff, posted on social media.
The Associated Press provided context on the race.
“The tight race shines a spotlight on Louisiana’s recount process and its outdated voting machines, which do not produce an auditable paper trail that experts say is critical to ensuring election results are accurate,” the Associated Press reported on the race. “States’ recount abilities have proven to be exceedingly important, especially following the 2020 presidential election when multiple battleground states conducted recounts and reviews to confirm President Joe Biden’s victory.”
During the recount, only absentee ballots were counted again and checked for irregularities. However, they only accounted for around 17% of the total votes cast in the runoff election. Absentee ballots are mailed in and are the only paper trail available under Louisiana’s current voting system.
In the case of paperless in-person voting, the recount would have been equivalent to pushing the refresh button.
“(Election officials) test the machines beforehand and they test the machines afterwards, so it’s not blind faith going into this. … There are protections in place,” David Becker, a former attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division who works with election officials through the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research claimed.
“That said, a recount of a paperless vote is essentially the equivalent of hitting the button again. … You’re basically getting a report on the tabulation again.”
Louisiana votes with paperless touch screen devices that were bought in 2005. Previously the most advanced voting technology, they are now only utilized statewide in Louisiana.
Election authorities, notably Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, have argued that the state’s elections are secure and that checks and balances are in place to assure election integrity.
The ability to recount ballots was critical in the 2020 election, when numerous battleground states, including Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, undertook recounts or comprehensive reviews of the election results.