Roland v. St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners, Oct. 2
ORAL ARGUMENT – Missouri Supreme Court to Review Sunshine Law Victory That Exposed Absentee Ballot Violations by St. Louis City Election Board.
PARTICIPANTS: Dave Roland, Attorney and Plaintiff
James Hetlage, Attorney for St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners
TIME/PLACE: 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, October 2, 2019
SUMMARY: A month before the August 2016 primary election in the City of St. Louis attorney Dave Roland notified the St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners of concerns about election fraud and asked the Board to investigate. The Board declined. Intending to conduct the investigation himself, Roland used the Sunshine Law to request access to absentee ballot applications and absentee ballot envelopes. The Board refused to allow access to the records, so Roland sued. The Circuit Court ruled that the absentee ballot applications and envelopes were open public records and that the Board had violated the Sunshine Law by denying Roland access to them. After reviewing these records, Roland used them to prove, Franks v. Hubbard, that the Board itself had engaged in violations of absentee ballot laws so extensive that the result of the primary election for the Democrat nominee for the 78th House District could not be trusted, necessitating a special election. Roland’s client, Bruce Franks, Jr., won that special election in a landslide. In the meantime, although Roland had shown that the Board violated the Sunshine Law the Circuit Court ordered him to pay the Board’s court costs in the amount of $1,084.50.
The Board appealed, arguing that absentee ballot applications and envelopes are not subject to disclosure under the Sunshine Law. Roland cross-appealed, arguing that the Sunshine Law does not permit a court to force a citizen plaintiff to pay the government’s court costs, especially when the plaintiff successfully showed a violation of the Sunshine Law. If the Missouri Supreme Court rules that these disputed absentee ballot records are exempt from the Sunshine Law, it will deprive citizens of a crucial tool to hold their election authorities accountable for correctly applying the state’s election laws. If the Circuit Court had not ruled that Roland was entitled to review the records at issue in this case, it is likely that the Board’s own violations of state law never would have been uncovered. A ruling in Roland’s favor will ensure that the Sunshine Law remains a powerful tool for keeping government in check, while a ruling in favor of the Board will embolden public governmental bodies to be even more aggressive in withholding public records.
The case, Roland v. St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners, et al., is the third case of four listed on the Missouri Supreme Court’s docket for Wednesday, October 2.