COEUR d'ALENE - It's over.
Seat 2 City Councilman Mike Kennedy won the Nov. 3 general election, 1st District Judge Charles Hosack ruled Tuesday afternoon. There will not be a new election for the seat.
The judge, issuing his order two-and-a-half-weeks after the trial concluded, tossed another illegal vote for Kennedy, so the incumbent will retain his seat by three votes over challenger Jim Brannon nearly one year after the polls closed.
"I'm happy, but not surprised," Kennedy said after learning of the ruling, less than an hour before his 6 p.m. City Council meeting. "It's what we've said all along: It was a well-run election."
Brannon had challenged the election on grounds that illegal votes had been counted in his original 5-vote loss to Kennedy. His attorney, Starr Kelso, also argued enough irregularities had occurred during the election to warrant another vote for the seat.
But Hosack's 20-page ruling stated that not enough illegal voters had been proven to change the outcome of the election and that the alleged irregularities didn't amount to malconduct to warrant a new election.
"The court concludes that there was no error in counting votes that would change the result of the election," the ruling reads.
Kelso declined to comment on the verdict until he has discussed it with Brannon. Brannon was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
"What further proceedings will be undertaken, if any, will be determined at that time," Kelso wrote in a press release.
Kelso did say that the ruling confirmed that several irregularities had taken place. Those include that elections officials hadn't kept an updated absentee ballot record as required by Idaho statute after the election, and that the other absentee ballot reports submitted documented only 2,041 valid absentee ballots received.
The total number of absentee ballots counted by the machine on election night was 2,051, a difference of 10 that Kelso said "was sufficient to change the result."
But Hosack said otherwise.
"Irregularities alone, without proof of fraud or corruption, have not been held sufficient in the state of Idaho to be considered malconduct for which an election should be set aside, nor was counsel able to provide the court with authority to the contrary," Hosack wrote.
"Having listened to six days of testimony," the judge continued, "the court is impressed by the complexity of the election process, and at how well the county ran the election."
Kennedy's attorney Scott Reed was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Deedie Beard, Kootenai County elections manager at the time of the election but since retired, said she was "elated" at news of the verdict.
"It's an absolute weight that has been on my shoulders weighing me down for 11 months," she said. "I'm so emotional. I just cried. It was an honest and fair election and I never wavered on that."
Hosack did throw out the vote of Rahana Zellars, a county resident who testified she had probably voted for Kennedy. The votes by Hayden residents Susan Harris and Ronald Prior could not be counted as having voted for Kennedy, the judge said, since they testified they were uncertain for whom they cast their ballot.
That left Kennedy winning by three, since two illegal votes for him had been tossed during trial, as had one for Brannon.
Hosack also ruled that the overseas voters were legal voters under federal laws. Hosack had ruled similarly during the weeklong trial.