Contested US House races in three states prolong Election '86

Election '86 isn't over quite yet. The results of three contests for United States representative are being challenged by the losers. Democrat Thomas W. Ward, who lost to incumbent US Rep. John P. Hiler in Indiana's Third District by 66 votes, has formally asked for a recount of this year's closest congressional race.

In Minnesota's Seventh District, Democrat-Farmer-Labor candidate Collin Peterson, defeated by incumbent US Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R) by 121 votes, is seeking a recount.

And in North Carolina's Sixth District, Democrat Robin Britt, who lost to US Rep. Howard Coble (R) by 82 votes, is expected to challenge the result in the courts after having been denied a recount. The matter could wind up in the House of Representatives, as did the disputed result of the 1984 congressional race in Indiana's Eighth District. In that contest, Democrat Frank McCloskey lost to Republican Richard McIntyre by 34 votes but wound up being seated by the Democratic majority in the US House. Controversy over that decision lasted into this year's election, in which Congressman McClosky easily turned back another bid by Mr. McIntyre, 106,709 to 93,028.

Mr. Britt, who maintains there were enough irregularities in the vote counting for the North Carolina contest to justify a recount, is expected to take the matter through the state's courts and, if necessary, on to the US House, which is the final arbiter of disagreements over the election of its members.

Britt and his lawyers say they hope the matter won't have to get that far. ``This is a North Carolina election,'' says Mark Longabaugh, Britt's campaign manager. ``We don't want to have this election settled by the House of Representatives. We want a recount.''

Congressman Coble answers, ``Closeness is not grounds for a recount. Everybody would like to win, but only one person can.''

But Britt maintains four Guilford County irregularities justify a recount:

Two days after the Nov. 4 election County maintenance men discovered ballots left behind at polling places at two schools. The precinct registrars inadvertently failed to turn in the ballots after counting them and reporting the totals.

The counting of absentee ballots was not concluded until 2 a.m. Nov. 5, a violation of the state election law.

Some voting machines didn't work, forcing many polls to close for hours.

The election board failed to notify hundreds of voters of changed voting locations.

The Republican-dominated Boards of Election in all three counties in the district have rejected Britt's request for recount. The board in Guilford County, largest of the three, voted 2 to 1 to reject Britt's request for a recount and certified the votes following an eight-hour hearing the Saturday after the election.

The North Carolina Board of Elections, also ruled by Republicans, plans to decide Nov. 25 whether to conduct a hearing on Britt's request.

If the state board rejects Britt's case, as his forces expect, he can file suit in Wake County Superior Court. If the outcome there is negative, he can take the case to the State Court of Appeals, and, finally, to the State Supreme Court. There are also federal appeal routes before arriving at the House, say Britt's lawyers.

Britt does not directly say the Guilford board's decision was partisan politics, but he says he thinks the board (2 to 1 Republican) would have granted Coble a recount if the situation was reversed.

Republican attorney Ginsberg asserts this election was ``extremely well run'' in comparison to a 1984 election in Indiana's Eighth District.

If Coble keeps his seat, he will be the first incumbent reelected since 1978 in North Carolina's seesaw Sixth District. Coble unseated Britt two years ago.

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