Correction: The original version incorrectly stated which agency is tasked with investigating election irregularities.
If there are questions about the election results for Tulsa City Council District 5, Sheriff Vic Regalado will share in the blame with poll workers at a specific precinct.
Regalado endorsed several candidates in the past election, including Grant Miller in that City Council race. He has every right to do so, but making an endorsement compromises him — and by extension the agency he leads — from investigating allegations in those races. That would be a conflict of interest.
On Election Day, Regalado accepted a secretly recorded video from Miller confronting workers at Precinct 77 about allegations of voting irregularities. Miller may have violated laws that restrict video and photographs at polling places and electioneering laws. Yet Regalado says he will not investigate Miller about that possibility until he gets an official complaint, according to a story from Kevin Canfield.
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Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman said the site’s poll workers did not give a City Council ballot to voters in the first hour. The reason is still under investigation. By 8 a.m., all voters were getting the right ballots, and the workers were replaced. Election officials sought those early voters — 19 Republicans, seven Democrats, four independents and a Libertarian — to return for the ballot.
At a press conference, Regalado, a Republican, gave incorrect information, used inflammatory language and wasn’t transparent about Miller prompting his investigation. He wrongly claimed that only Republicans were denied a ballot. A video he played for media as proof came from Miller, a fact he omitted. He insinuated the two Democrat poll workers were purposely undermining the election.
Also, he said without voter confidence “there’s a complete and total breakdown of the system, and I’ve think that we’ve seen that over the last couple of years.” That plays into lies about stolen elections and unproven claims of voter fraud, of which Oklahoma has not experienced.
Miller won the election by 28 votes. His opponent, incumbent Mikey Arthrell, claims Regalado’s actions rallied people to vote for the candidate supported by the sheriff. This is a plausible claim.
The problem boils down to Regalado not recognizing his conflict of interest. An Oklahoma administrative code states the county sheriff is to investigate voting irregularities. But sheriffs can recuse themselves when conflicts arise.
Even if the investigation is done correctly, the endorsement clouds the findings. The perception of bias lingers.
It would have been more appropriate for Regalado to hand this case — and any election case where he has backed a candidate — to Tulsa Police or another county sheriff. Also, it’s worth noting that Miller took it upon himself to covertly interrogate workers instead of reporting to authorities first; an improper move for an incoming public servant.
The Election Board took quick action and contained the irregularities to less than 30 voters. We have confidence election officials acted appropriately. We do not have the same confidence in Regalado’s investigation.