JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It looks as if Jacob Turk’s name will be appearing on the ballot in Senate District 8’s special election.
Just days after Turk filed more than 800 signatures to get his name added to the ballot, lawyers from Husch Blackwell, typically the go-to law firm for the Missouri Republican Party, sued to keep Turk off the ballot as an independent candidate. It was a maneuver that caught Turk a little off guard.
“My reaction, personally, was disappointment. I’ve always believed that the foundation of our government is folks exercising their voice through the ballot box, and having more choices for people to choose from is better than fewer choices,” he said. “I know the plaintiffs, in this case, were a Republican committeeman and a Republican committeewoman, so it looks like it was the leadership of the Republican Party that was doing this, and that’s disappointing to basically suppress the voters’ choices.”
The plaintiffs had alleged the signatures in question should not be allowed for two reasons: first, they argued Turk had filed the petitions a day late by their count, and secondly, there were some errors or discrepancies with some petitions, which they said should not be counted.
The case immediately headed to the Cole County Circuit Court.
In a Monday afternoon hearing, Judge Daniel Green left all of the involved parties and the members watching the court proceeding in confusion with his ruling, as the judge granted relief to strike some of the signatures, listing off certain ones to be stricken. As he continued, people began subtracting the numbers from the 643 signatures that had been validated by the Jackson County Board of Elections.
When the math was done, everyone had to check just to be certain. In the end, Turk’s attorney, Brianna Lennon, went and checked with Judge Green, and it seems that the decision left just enough signatures to allow Turk’s name on the ballot, meeting exactly the necessary 629 signatures.
In truth, the entire case seemed to hinge on math. When figuring the timeline of when the petitions should have been filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, the plaintiffs argued that, in the 100-day-period between the day the special election was set and the date of the election, the 50th day should be when they are filed, which would make the date Sept. 18th. Turk filed the petitions on the 19th.
But his attorney, a former Democratic candidate for Boone County southern commissioner and attorney for Democratic administrations of Attorney General and Secretary of State offices, argued state statutes say the first day is not counted, but the final day is. That would place the period at 99 days, and when placing 49 days on either side, the date would be the 19th.
In the end, that seemed to play no real part in the judge’s decision, as Judge Green declared that he would defer to the Secretary of State’s office on the issue of when the signatures should have been filed.
As for the other argument, the plaintiffs brought in an expert witness: Linda Hartwick, a forensic document examiner since 1992, who examined the documents with scientific methods to determine if the signatures matched.
As it turns out, some of the signatures had been brought into question simply because the signee used a printed version of their name, rather than a cursive one. Hartwick explained that they look for individual characteristics in the writing, “like subconscious motions they do not realize they’re even doing.”
Another issue presented with signatures had to do with the notary.
Lennon contended that Jackson County had already certified the signatures twice, and saying that voters’ signatures are presumed valid until proven otherwise.
“Just because there is a problem with the notary, it doesn’t mean the signatures are not valid,” she argued.
Assistant Attorney General Emily Dodge, representing the Secretary of State, also argued that at this point, the Secretary of State had already issued the certificate of sufficiency, and noted that ballots have already been printed with Turk’s name on it.
“It’s probable that some absentee ballots have already gone out,” she said.
In the end, Judge Green ruled in favor of Turk, who will now turn his attention to the campaign.
“People should pick their representatives, instead of representatives picking their people,” Turk said. We’ll make our cases, and the people will decide, whether it’s based on Mike (Cierpiot)’s record, Hilary (Shield)’s philosophy or my philosophy, we’ll find out. So, let’s go out, have a great campaign, and see who wins in the end. We’ll go out there, work hard, and just see who will be successful.”
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.