- Jim Sorvillo is asking the court to toss out election results for House District 32
- Republican Sorvillo aims to prevent Democrat Ashley Hudson from claiming a House seat
- The fight reveals interesting family ties and potentially charged connections among people involved
A state lawmaker who lost his seat by 24 votes will get a chance to appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
On Wednesday the state’s highest court granted Republican Jim Sorvillo’s request for expedited consideration and invited him to submit a brief on Dec. 1. Sorvillo was seeking his fourth term for AR House District 32, but lost to Democrat Ashley Hudson.
According to court filings, Sorvillo aims to have the state Supreme Court stop Secretary of State John Thurston from acknowledging Hudson’s win. What would happen after that is unclear, but Sorvillo has asked for a complete do-over on the House District 32 election.
“This is such an extraordinary request that we’re not sure what he’s trying to do,” said Camille Bennett, an attorney and volunteer voter advocate with For AR People. “There is a procedure to contest elections after they’re certified, but that’s not what’s happening.”
An Unusual Path to Pursue
A defeated candidate trying to overturn election results would usually file an election contest in circuit court. That path would require Sorvillo to come forward with proof the results are incorrect.
But this case traveled an unusual route. Sorvillo initially tried to stop the Pulaski County Election Commission from certifying election results, arguing that the mistaken tabulation of a box of 327 disqualified ballots warped the outcome of his race. Poll workers determined that up to 32 of those ballots included the District 32 race. All of the ballots in the disqualified box came from registered voters who requested and returned absentee ballots, but mistakes or missing information on accompanying paperwork caused those ballots to be disqualified.
Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen declined to hear Sorvillo’s case until after the Pulaski County Election Commission certified results on November 18. Sorvillo did not go back to Griffen’s court. Instead, he pursued an appeal to his original argument that results should not have been certified to begin with.
Hudson can respond to Sorvillo and make her arguments in a brief to the state Supreme Court on Dec. 4, as can Pulaski County election commissioners and Secretary of State Thurston, who are named as defendants.
The Arkansas Connection
If mistakenly counted ballots and that skinny 24-vote victory aren’t enough to pique your interest in West Little Rock politics, there’s plenty more to this story.
Sorvillo’s legal fight landed briefly in the courtroom of Morgan “Chip” Welch, a circuit judge and Hudson’s dad. He recused, of course. Now the case is before the state Supreme Court, where the newest justice is Barbara Webb. Webb defeated Welch for that spot on the bench in April of this year.
And there’s more. Barbara Webb’s husband is Doyle Webb, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas. Doyle Webb attended a few of the Pulaski County Election Commission meetings during the contentious vote count. Doyle Webb spoke at one of the meetings on Sorvillo’s behalf, asking commissioners to put off certifying results of the Sorvillo/Hudson race. Advised by their attorney and the Secretary of State’s office, commissioners complied. They certified results for all Pulaski County races except for House District 32 on Nov. 16. They met again on Nov. 18, their legal deadline, to certify Hudson’s victory.