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First court hearing on voting irregularity sees testimony from sheriff, candidate

elex hearing.jpg
Elizabeth Caldwell
/
KWGS News
Rachel Rogers (front) and Gwen Freeman, both employees of the Tulsa County Election Board, arrive at court on Nov. 17, 2022

Updated Friday at 11:20 a.m.

The Tulsa World is reporting incumbent District 5 City Councilor Mykey Arthrell has picked up three votes in a manual recount, with Grant Miller now winning by 24 votes instead of 27. Public Radio Tulsa has reached out to the election board to confirm.

The story from Thursday:

A judge has granted a continuance in a court case involving a voting irregularity in the Tulsa City Council District 5 race between Grant Miller and Mykey Arthrell.

Despite objections from Arthrell’s attorney, Judge Doug Drummond allowed a continuance so a recount of votes by the county election board could be completed. Drummond also expressed interest in hearing more from Miller around evidence Miller said is being collected on his behalf.

At issue is about one hour on the morning of Nov. 8 when Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman said the first voters in line at Precinct 77 located in Espiritu Santo Episcopal Church at 9100 E. 21st St. got ballots for statewide races but not the city council race. Freeman testified Thursday that, according to the precinct’s voter registry, 38 people may not have gotten Tulsa ballots, up from the initial tally of 31 she gave after a cursory investigation on election day.

Miller, who won the election against incumbent Arthrell by 27 votes, is challenging the election board's number, saying it’s actually fewer voters who didn’t get ballots. He said he’s relying on the total tally of ballots cast, as well as affidavits he drafted signed by people included in the election board’s figure who say they did receive and cast city council ballots.

Arthrell’s attorney, Taylor Burke, pressed Miller during the hearing, questioning him on the absence of ballots rather than the tally of ballots.

“If no ballot was provided, how could a ballot be cast?” Burke asked.

“It could not,” said Miller.

Miller said he has so far collected five affidavits, three signed by people willing to testify under oath that they did receive ballots.

“We’re almost at 50% there, of people who the book says didn’t receive [a ballot] but actually did,” said Miller.

Two are from people who agree with the election board’s registry, said Miller.

When asked if he thinks it’s a conflict of interest for a public official to be collecting evidence for a court case around the validity of his own election, Miller said he hasn’t spoken to anyone himself.

“I didn’t contact these folks,” said Miller.

Instead it’s a group of volunteers called Women for Tulsa who are doing the contacting, said Miller.

The hearing, which began around 9 a.m. and lasted until 3 p.m., started with testimony from Freeman. She said on the morning of Nov. 8, the election board received phone calls from two people identified as Carolyn Harter and Roland St. John. Freeman said the complaints made by Harter and St. John focused only on the material failure to hand out ballots.

Freeman said Tommy Neal, who’s in charge of election security for the board, was dispatched to Precinct 77 where he photographed the registry and got the initial impression that it was 31 voters who may have been denied ballots. Election board officials also met with investigators from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.

A press conference was subsequently called with the intention of informing affected voters, said Freeman. It wasn’t until the press conference, held at Sheriff Vic Regalado’s office, that the board began to receive complaints about the intentional withholding of ballots based on party affiliation, said Freeman. Regalado, who endorsed Miller for the District 5 seat, claimed at the conference that only Republicans hadn’t received ballots, while Freeman went on to say it was a number of voters from all parties.

Regalado, who testified at Thursday’s hearing, said he had “no personal knowledge” of whether or not it was just Republicans receiving ballots. He said his statements at the press conference were based on a video made at Precinct 77 by Miller, as well as “interviews with [poll workers] by detectives.” Regalado named Cpl. Chris Garrison and an undersheriff as being involved in the case.

Miller, who in the video recorded himself confronting poll workers about Republicans being denied ballots, testified that he “visited multiple voting locations” on the morning of Nov. 8. He said that morning he got two phone calls from people claiming ballots were being denied at Precinct 77 on the basis of party affiliation, but declined to identify those callers to Public Radio Tulsa.

“I’m sure all that information will come out in the case, it’s an ongoing case,” said Miller.

Miller testified he contacted Regalado right after getting those two calls, but said he didn’t tell Regalado he was going to the precinct to make a video. He did submit his video to Regalado, who subsequently played it at the press conference as proof of a problem.

Miller acknowledged during his testimony that he was within sight of Precinct 77’s ballot box as he videoed his conversation with the poll workers, which could be a violation of state law.

Arthrell said despite all the details, there’s no way at present to prove who won the election.

“Even if the election board had arrived at this without a challenge, they wouldn’t be able to certify the results, and it would still require a judge to make a decision as to when and where a revote would happen,” said Arthrell.

The case will continue at the Tulsa County Courthouse at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.