$96M school bond passed by 5 votes, but opponents sue

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Voters in the South Washington County school district approved a $96 million bonding referendum on Nov. 3 by the slimmest of margins – 19 votes. A second review by the elections canvassing board made that margin even slimmer – just five votes.

Now, a group of district residents who oppose the building plan is suing in an effort to overturn the outcome, saying the canvassing board made a mistake, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

The $96 million request would pay for construction of a new middle school and upgrades to other school buildings in the district, which includes much of Woodbury as well as Cottage Grove and smaller communities.

Opponents of the measure said in their lawsuit, filed Wednesday, that the canvassing board threw out five ballots which they contend should have counted as "no" votes.

Doing so would have led to a tie, and the bond measure would have gone down to defeat, the South Washington County Bulletin reports.

On four of the ballots in question, the voters filled in the "o" in the word "No," instead of filling in the oval to the left of the word. On the fifth ballot, the voter filled in both ovals but also crossed out the “Yes” oval.

Attorney Erick Kaardal, who represents the opponents, said those ballots should all have been counted.

"The law requires the canvassing board to only reject a ballot if it is impossible to determine the voter's intent," Kaardal said, according to the Pioneer Press.

The school district released a statement saying it believes the canvassing board "acted appropriately" when it reviewed the ballots in question.

“With varied interpretations of the law, as was evident through the work of the canvassing board, there is more than one view regarding the outcome of the reconsidered ballots,” said the statement, according to the Bulletin.

A court hearing must take place in the next 20 days, as required by law, the Pioneer Press notes.

Voters in the school district approved a $10 million operating levy by a wide margin, and soundly rejected a second bonding request that would have funded additions to the district's three high schools.

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