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Ferguson Activist Victorious in Court-Ordered Do-Over Primary

Bruce Franks listens as his lawyer Dave Roland, right, talks to media Aug. 17, 2016, about a formal challenge to the results of the Aug. 2 primary. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

A political newcomer scored a landslide victory Friday in a court-ordered special election to decide the Missouri 78th state house district Democratic primary election.

Bruce Franks Jr., a black business owner and activist, will be the Democratic Party’s candidate on the November ballot.

Franks is favored to beat Republican Erik Shelquist in a district which the Democratic Party dominates.

“We stood against the machine,” St. Louis Public Radio reported Franks told an exuberant crowd of more than 100 supporters. “We didn’t have the money. We didn’t have the relationships. But none of that matters when you have the people.”

Franks, who was on the front lines of the Ferguson, Mo., protests following the shooting death of Michael Brown, beat Penny Hubbard, the matriarch of a political family in St. Louis, by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 in the special election. Hubbard’s husband, Rodney, is a member of the St. Louis Democratic Central Committee and her daughter, Tammika, is a city alderman.

Hubbard did not offer an immediate comment on her defeat.

However, even though the special election results should place Franks on the November ballot, the lawyers are not done debating the results of the first election.

Congressman Lacy Clay wants a federal investigation, which would be conducted while similar probes are carried out by St. Louis and Missouri officials.

Rep. Penny Hubbard defeated Bruce Franks Jr. for the 78th district Missouri House seat in the Aug. 2 primary. Franks took almost 53 percent of the votes cast on the day of the election. But Hubbard had a 416-114 advantage in absentee ballots. It was enough to give her the victory, 2,203 to 2,113.

The Sept. 16 do-over election was ordered following a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that discovered several discrepancies involving the 78th district’s absentee ballots.

The Post-Dispatch investigation found more than a dozen voters who said they never claimed to be incapacitated as their applications to vote absentee showed. They didn’t know who had marked that box on the forms.

The investigation also discovered two former Election Board workers who said that in previous election campaigns, Penny Hubbard’s husband, Rodney, often delivered stacks of absentee ballots to the Election Board offices. If true, that would be a violation of Missouri election law that states only a second-degree relative can deliver ballots for another person.

The Post-Dispatch investigation also found at least 60 cases of two applications being submitted to the St. Louis Election Board for a single voter, and none of those voters said they had applied twice.

Reynal Caldwell Jr. and another voter told the Post-Dispatch that Hubbard campaign workers had filled out their ballots for them.

Caldwell said he was just trying to get the campaign workers off his front porch when he confessed to not having decided whom to vote for.

“The woman I was talking to said she’ll put down the same vote as hers,” Caldwell said.

Although Caldwell also said he never actually voted, election records show his ballot was received by the Election Board and counted among the results in the Aug. 2 primary.

Hubbard’s lawyer said there was no evidence that her client or anyone associated with the campaign had done anything wrong.

But the Missouri secretary of state’s Office and the U.S. attorney’s office have announced formal reviews of the election. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Jones has also started an investigation.

“I have zero tolerance for fraud of any kind, and that’s why my office immediately reached out to the St. Louis City Board of Elections following the troubling allegations in the primary election for House District 78,” said Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.

“We have also been in communication with the U.S. Attorney and St. Louis Circuit attorney on this matter, and will continue to assist them where possible,” Kander added. “The laws on absentee voting in Missouri are very clear, so there’s no excuse for them not being followed by local election authorities, campaigns, candidates or voters.”

Congressman Clay (D) wants the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation of the 78th state representative district primary, which he said was a classic example of the disenfranchisement of minority voters.

He pointed out in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch that the absentee ballots in question were cast in “the same manner and under the same set of rules and regulations as all of the other absentee votes” in St. Louis.

But for some reason, only the election results in the predominately minority 78th House District were thrown out. The do-over election was set for Sept.16, which Clay said did not give many elderly and disabled voters enough chance to vote by absentee ballot.

Even though both candidates are black, Clay said he was suspicious about a possible connection between the Missouri Legislature’s vote to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of Voter ID legislation and the controversy in the 78th district.

“The publicity surrounding this local election is designed to feed a narrative,” Clay said, “that supports the disturbing unconstitutional trend to deny equal rights to minority voters.”