Laiche concedes to Riddle; says time to 'move on'

A look at details of Avoyelles district attorney election challenge

Although he may have lost his election challenge, and thus the chance to be district attorney for the next six years, Barry Laiche believes his lawsuit questioning hundreds of improperly completed absentee ballots could make future elections fairer and more secure.

"Absentee voting is supposed to be very rare and restrictive," Laiche said. "Widespread use of absentee ballots will cause serious problems in the future. In fact, I would say the expansion of mail-in ballots is the largest mistake this country has made."

District Attorney Charles Riddle won re-election on Nov. 3 by 364 votes. A recount demanded by Laiche reduced that margin to 362. Laiche filed a lawsuit challenging the electing results and seeking a rerun election on Dec. 5 or at the earliest election date after that.

Judge Harry Randow was appointed to hear the case after the two 12th Judicial District judges were recused. Randow heard arguments this past Monday morning on why the case should be dismissed.

When the trial resumed after a noon break, Randow ruled that Laiche failed to object to absentee ballots when they were being opened, accepted and counted on election day. That lack of objection at that time meant he could not come back later and challenge them after the election.

Laiche is hoping that while he may have lost this battle, the "war" over the large-scale use of mail-in ballots may yet be won.

"Anyone seeking elected office in the future should hire a qualified legal team to be on hand when the absentee ballots are counted, armed with objection forms, to make sure this kind of thing does not happen again," Laiche said.

Laiche said he decided not to appeal Randow's ruling because "as an attorney for 27 years I have to respect the rule of law. There also comes a time when you have to respect the result of an election and move on."

Riddle said Louisiana has some of the most restrictive rules for absentee voting in the nation and that Laiche's fears are unfounded.

LAICHE'S ALLEGATIONS

At the center of Laiche's challenge were allegations there were substantial "irregularities, errors and other unlawful activities" that more than erased the 362-vote margin between the two candidates in the Nov. 3 balloting.

Laiche said he noted at least 428 "irregularities" on the absentee mail-in ballot affidavits that should have disqualified them from being counted.

He pointed out that he is not alleging "fraud" -- the intentional criminal attempt to deceive -- when using the term "unlawful activities." He said that term refers to "mandatory requirements of law not being followed."

In this case, Laiche contends the state law concerning mail-in ballots clearly states that "all" blanks and lines on the ballot affidavit flap "shall" be filled in.

Examples of mistakes, marks or missing information include: no election date printed, the wrong election date printed, the voter's name scratched out or lined through, no street address, no ward and/or no precinct number, and additional numbers or marks on the affidavit.

Laiche said another piece of information required to ensure the voter is who they say they are is their mother's maiden name. He said the Registrar of Voters Office would not let him check to see how many of the affidavits were missing that information, citing privacy concerns. He said one member of the Board of Election Supervisors looked at one of the first absentee ballot affidavits to be questioned and noted it did not have the mother's maiden name.

'UNDER-VOTE' ISSUE

In addition, Laiche noted an "under-vote" of 1,398 ballots between the number cast in the presidential election and the number of votes in the district attorney's race. He proposed two possible reasons for that, both of which he contends qualify as reasons to throw out the election results and re-run the race on Dec. 5 or at the earliest possible time.

First, he noted several people have complained to him that they did not see the district attorney's race on the early voting ballot. He said the election was on the second screen, tucked in the bottom right corner.

The official election results from the Secretary of State's Office show 5,454 early/absentee ballots cast in Avoyelles Parish. Of those, 82 did not vote in the presidential election. There were 309 who did not vote in the district attorney's race.

Second, the precinct voting machines on election day had a "protective shield" on the screen that caused votes not to be registered if the voter did not push the button correctly. Laiche said voters told him they tried to vote for him, but could never get the selection illuminated. Others said they had to hit the button several times for it to show they had voted for him.

The combination of all of these factors "makes what should have been the real outcome impossible to determine."

The remedy under state law for such a situation is to redo the election.

{Editor's Note: This article deals with claims made in a lawsuit and is not intended to present those arguments as correct. A lawsuit presents only one side of an issue and is not proof that the arguments presented are valid. All sides of an issue, and a determination of which argument is correct, are presented in trial and a ruling is made a judge.}

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