ST. LOUIS — Voters will be asked for the second time to decide a Democratic election for Missouri House seat from St. Louis because of irregularities with absentee ballots in the Aug. 2 primary.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison’s ruling on Friday will pit incumbent Democratic state Rep. Penny Hubbard against political newcomer Ben Franks. Hubbard defeated Franks in the primary by 90 votes.

Burlison scheduled the special election for Sept. 16 but Hubbard’s attorney said she would appeal the decision, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/2bKx91i ).

Franks sought to overturn the primary results because he received nearly 53 percent of the votes cast in the primary but Hubbard won 78.5 percent of absentee votes. Burlison said in his ruling that the special election was necessary because the St. Louis Election Board accepted 142 absentee ballots without envelopes. He said the envelopes are required by state law and the board can’t ignore or circumvent “tedious and specific” provisions.

“It’s the happiest I have been in a long time,” Franks said Friday. “I’m so happy for the people . This is huge.”

Franks’ attorney, Dave Roland, argued in court that at least 238 votes should have been rejected by the Election Board. But Burlison’s ruling discussed only the state laws requiring specific steps for accepting, counting and challenging absentee votes.

The absentee result in the primary was 416 for Hubbard, 114 for Franks. Of the 4,316 votes cast in the election, 530 were absentee.

Burlison said the Election Board, not Hubbard or her supporters, was at fault.

“No credible evidence was presented from which this Court could find that any voter fraudulently cast a vote in this case,” Burlison said. “Any error or irregularity that this Court finds herein, is solely the responsibility of the City of St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners.”

Burlison said he was “firmly convinced that these irregularities affected the outcome of the election. These irregularities were more than petty procedural infirmities but abuses of the election law which cannot be ignored.”

Hubbard’s attorney, Jane Dueker, criticized the decision.

“The will of the people was thrown out based on a legal technicality having absolutely nothing to do with voters,” she said.

Secretary of State Jason Kander said in a statement Friday his office will continue to review the situation.

“That aside, clearly in this situation, the St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners did not comply with state law,” Kander said.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com