In an unprecedented decision Shelby County Chancery Court Judge Kenny Armstrong has called for a new election in the contested District 4 school board race between Rev. Kenneth Whalum and Kevin Woods.
The election, originally held on Aug. 2, 2012, was certified with Woods winning by 106 votes.
Whalum contested the election alleging voters from outside the district voted in the election.
In the ruling, Judge Armstrong found that the number of people who received incorrect ballots in the contest far exceeded Woods' margin of victory and "bear a direct relationship to the uncertainty of the election outcome".
The ruling sets up a new election for the seat as the school board prepares to shift from the 23-member transition board to the seven members elected in that August 2012 election.
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Rev. Whalum said it was a vision that came to his wife at 1:06 a.m. two days after his defeat at the polls. In a news conference Monday afternoon Rev. Whalum said it was the inspiration for his decision to challenge the results of his District 4 school board loss, which just so happened to be 106 votes.
During his political career, and especially his years as a Shelby county school board member, Rev. Whalum has managed to ruffle more feathers than a wolf let loose in a hen house. Yet, even the glib master of agitation appeared humbled and surprised by his new entry into the footnotes of Memphis political history.
"I'm such an easy person to dislike and that a person like me, with such a strong will and such a lightning rod for public opinion, would be the one to be the precedent in a case that sets the standard for citizens of Memphis. That's gratifying," he said.
After hearing three months of arguments in the lawsuit challenging the outcome of Rev. Whalum's 1060-vote loss to Woods, Judge Armstrong sided with Rev. Whalum's attorney, Robert Spence. Firmly laying the blame on errors committed during the voting process by the Shelby County Election Commission, Judge Armstrong said in his seven-page decision, the combination of illegal votes cast and legal votes excluded created uncertainty about the elections true outcome.
Judge Armstrong further concluded the number of lost and miscast votes would have exceeded woods margin of victory and that a new election should be held.
"It was so bungled by the election commission and it was bungled," Spence said. "I think the chancellor did not find it was intentional, but it was bungled. Where the citizens are not assured the outcome is not a true expression of the will of the voters, then courts are open to clients like Pastor Whalum and others to go to court and have those issues redressed."
As for Woods, who said he knew late last week of the decision, he opted to take the verbal high road despite the fact he and his attorneys are considering whether to appeal Judge Armstrong's ruling.
"We called folks, we knocked on doors, and we asked for supporters," said Woods. "We knew we were running against a name. But, over the last two years, I think now the work will speak volumes for what we've done for District 4. I'm confident that in the unlikely event there's another election we will again be victorious."
Pending a possible appeal, Shelby County Election Commission President Robert Meyers says a date to hold a new election for District 4 is being considered for the fall.
"We will be looking to, if we can, attach it to one of the other elections and the one that makes the most sense would be the city referendum election," Meyers said.
A jubilant Rev. Whalum said he's ready to go toe-to-toe with Woods again on the election trail.
"All I know is whenever election day is, I'm going to be running like a Kenyan in a marathon," Whalum said. "I'm going to run harder this time than I have ever run in my life."
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