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Bruce Franks wins the Missouri 78th District House seat revote

Bruce Franks Sr. (left) and Earline Banks (right) congratulate their son Bruce Franks Jr. as he arrives at Yaquis on Cherokee Street for a watch party after voting closed for 78th District House seat special election on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Ninety votes.

That was the margin of (temporary) victory for incumbent Missouri state Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis, out of more than 4,300 votes cast in the August 2016 Democratic primary race to keep her 78th District seat.

Hubbard, a member of a deeply entrenched St. Louis political family, actually lost among voters who cast ballots in the polling places on Election Day. What put her over the top to beat challenger Bruce Franks Jr. was a huge margin of victory among a suspiciously large number of absentee ballots cast: 416 for Hubbard to 114 for Franks.

A Post-Dispatch investigation later found numerous irregularities with those absentee ballots.

Several voters said they were duped into filling out absentee ballots and were told to mark that they were incapacitated when they were not. Two former Election Board workers said Hubbard’s husband brought stacks of absentee ballots into the board headquarters downtown, a violation of state law. Two voters have said individuals who said they were with the Hubbard campaign filled out ballots for them.

“I really don’t know who to vote for,” said one of the residents. “The woman I was talking to said she’ll put down the same votes as hers.”

Franks, a Ferguson activist and political newcomer, sued to overturn the results. St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison ordered a new election. His decision was based on a relatively obscure technicality having to do with the envelopes used with absentee ballots, but his written ruling left little doubt of the seriousness of the issue.

“The Court is firmly convinced that these irregularities affected the outcome of the election," wrote Burlison. "These irregularities were more than petty procedural infirmities but abuses of the election law which cannot be ignored.”

The second time around, Franks won the primary with 76 percent of the vote, setting up a virtually automatically general-election victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter.