Lawsuit challenges county’s exclusion of third-party candidates in special elections

Constitution Party candidate wants to seek 6th District council seat

Cindy Redburn

Cindy Redburn

By Gloria Lloyd

If Concord resident Cindy Redburn gets her way, Republican Tony Pousosa and Democrat Kevin O’Leary will not be the only candidates facing off in the April 7 special election for the 6th District County Council seat.

The Constitution Party, Redburn and south county residents who say they want to vote for Constitution Party candidate Redburn filed a lawsuit Friday against St. Louis County over the county Charter’s exclusion of third parties from special elections like the one for the 6th District seat. The lawsuit alleges the Charter’s clause that only allows major parties in special elections is unconstitutional.

The Charter clause allowing only Democrats and Republicans to run candidates in special elections has gone unchallenged since the county Charter was adopted in 1979, until now.

“I was a little bit astounded when I first realized it and then decided that this couldn’t be unchallenged,” Redburn said of the specific exclusion of third parties from the rare special elections.

The candidate is suing the county with the help of attorney Dave Roland and the Freedom Center of Missouri, which takes on constitutional law cases pro bono. Pending the submission of affidavits from the south county voters, Roland is also looking to file a temporary restraining order and injunction in the race.

The 6th District seat is vacant after County Executive Steve Stenger, D-Affton, resigned from it to take office as county executive. Stenger, who is also an attorney, told the Call Tuesday night that the county received the lawsuit Tuesday and is reviewing it, but he has not had time to look into Redburn’s legal case to make a judgment yet about its merits.

Depending on how quickly a judge acts, Roland believes he has a decent chance of getting Redburn on the ballot for April’s election, citing what he views as clear-cut violations of the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the state Constitution.

“The fact of the matter is, the Charter provision is unconstitutional,” Roland said. “Elections are required to be free and open under the Missouri Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court has been exceptionally clear on this subject: Voters have a right to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice. We really think the law is very strong on this point.”

Special elections are rare in the county, with only three in the last 11 years, but two have happened over the past year.

The upcoming 6th District election follows the August special election that followed the death in office last April of 2nd District Councilwoman Kathleen Kelly Burkett, D-Overland, she was succeeded by Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur.

The previous vacancy and special election also came from a county executive taking office, when former County Executive Charlie Dooley, then a councilman for the 1st District, was elected by the council to take the place of former County Executive George R. “Buzz” Westfall after Westfall died in office in 2003. First District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, was then elected to take Dooley’s seat on the council.

Retired teacher Redburn, 68, is a charter member of the Constitution Party since it formed in 1992. She ran unsuccessfully for the Missouri House last fall against Rep. Mike Leara, R-Concord, and for Congress in 2008, but she said she wants to run for County Council after researching county government and realizing how little oversight the council has.

Redburn’s promise that the people need to be represented better by their council member echoes one of the key campaign themes of Republican candidate Pousosa, a Green Park alderman whose campaign slogan is “Let the People Be the Compass.”

Although Redburn’s candidacy might take away votes from his own run for the 6th District, Pousosa told the Call he supports her right to run and the people’s right to decide their representative.

When Redburn tried to file to run for the 6th District election at the Board of Election Commissioners office when filing opened, she was rejected by Deputy Director Mary Wall due to the Charter prohibition.

Although the Board of Elections is a party in the lawsuit, Redburn and Roland both emphasized that election officials had their hands tied in rejecting Redburn’s candidacy, since their job is to enforce the county Charter.

“The mistakes that were made were made by the commission that created the county Charter 30 years ago,” Roland said.

The clause diverges from the county’s typical policy governing elections, which is that anyone with enough signatures can run for election after paying the filing fee.

“In 2016 I could walk into the Board of Elections and file for that office and there wouldn’t even be a moment’s hesitation, but not in 2015 for a special election,” Redburn noted.