UPDATED WITH COMMENTS FROM ELMER GEORGE AND CURTIS HARDWICK
Circuit Judge Judy Vance handed down a ruling Friday finding in favor of Ben Arnold and ruling that a new mayoral race must be held.
The ruling comes after Arnold filed a civil action claiming that numerous discrepancies in the November election were an injustice to voters and the election should be thrown out.
In making her decision, Vance examined precinct rosters, including voters’ names and signatures, city and county designation coding, method of identification and poll workers’ initials.
In her ruling, Vance states that under close review, precinct rosters reveal several clerical errors regarding the identification of individual voters as well as classification as to city or county residency.
The integrity of two voting machines also came into question, due to broken seals.
Vance writes that the Court is not convinced the election for the office of mayor was “a free and equal election” and declares it void. The complete ruling is attached and can be seen in full by clicking on the word Ruling:
Elmer George, attorney for Ben Arnold, declared today to be “a good day for the citizens of Columbia.”
George commended Vance for her ruling and said he had to spend hours reviewing the evidence before making the ruling.
“People wanted a quick decision, but that was impossible,” he said. “There was a lot of evidence to review.”
The county clerk must now make arrangements for a new election. George said he hoped it could be held with the May primary so the city is not out the cost of a separate election.
Curtis Hardick, who was certified as Columbia’s mayor after the November election, said Friday afternoon he will not appeal the ruling. Hardwick and the local board of elections were respondents in the case.
“What the judge rules we have to live by,” Hardwick said. “She saw enough evidence to overrule the election, so the only thing I can do is run again and ask the people to support me again. They have always been faithful to support me in the past.”
It’s unclear now what is next. Will Hardwick remain in office until someone is appointed? Will the City Council appoint the mayor as it has when there was a resignation or does that duty fall to someone else? With the ruling coming late on a Friday afternoon, there won’t be answers until Monday when legal scholars are back in the office and can answer the questions.
By Sharon Burton