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Trial starts in contested CdA race

Losing candidate claims election mismanaged

The losing candidate in last year’s Coeur d’Alene City Council election on Monday took the city and the councilman who defeated him to court.

On Nov. 3, City Councilman Mike Kennedy beat challenger Jim Brannon by five votes in an election handled under contract by the Kootenai County elections department.

Starr Kelso, Brannon’s attorney, said in his opening arguments that he would establish how an election should be run and show that Kootenai County did not properly document names of applicants on absentee ballots. He said several reports run by the elections department showed differing numbers of absentee voters, including one that certified 10 more ballots had been cast than existed.

Kelso said he’s attempted to subpoena several people who he referred to as “illegal voters,” either because they live in Canada, cast ballots other than their own, or are residents of the county who voted in the city. “We will show that there were more than five illegal votes cast,” Kelso said. “The issue here, your honor, is illegal votes and illegal voters in numbers sufficient enough to change the impact of the election.”

However, Peter Erbland, an attorney for Kennedy, said the election was legitimate and that will be proven in a court of law, not on a blog, a reference to the ongoing and heated debate over the suit taking place on online discussion sites. Five votes cannot be eliminated from the election results and the election should not be overturned, he said.

“The plaintiff simply does not have the evidence,” or the evidence he has is not admissible, Erbland said. In addition, he said, “The witnesses will not be here.”

The canvass of voters showed 2,051 absentee ballots were processed by the elections machines, Erbland said, and much criticism has been leveled at the manner in which the election was conducted. However, he said, how individual voters voted either cannot or should not be revealed.

“None of that,” Erbland said, “tells us how any of these voters voted.”

The trial began with fireworks as Kelso attempted to disqualify Kootenai County 1st District Judge Charles Hosack due to statements the judge made ruling on a related matter. In that ruling, Hosack apparently used the word “anathema,” which Kelso said he had to look up. Kelso said the use of that word must have taken some thought and showed Hosack felt “that this election contest is vile.”

“You cannot proceed,” Kelso said to the judge. “You have shown your personal bias.”

Hosack, however, dismissed that motion and remained as judge, saying Kelso, who was not present at the prior hearing, had missed the context of the discussion.

Lastly, he added, “I can guarantee Mr. Kelso it didn’t take me any research to come up with the word ‘anathema.’ ”

Representing the city of Coeur d’Alene, also a named defendant in the case, attorney Mike Haman said the city legally contracted with Kootenai County to conduct its city election. The people who ran the election welcome the trial to show the election was professionally and correctly done, he said.

“The canvass was correct,” Haman said, “and the right person won.”

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