Skip to main content

Lodging tax vote for hospital was valid, local judge decides

By June 22, 2023July 3rd, 2023No Comments

District Judge Emily Maxwell ruled Tuesday that a 2 percent lodging tax passed by voters in November was approved in a valid election.
A cabin owner and a cabin renter had challenged the election’s validity because required notices were not published and the ballot didn’t contain some items clarifying the amount and use of the money.
The judge disagreed.
“The court finds voters in McCurtain County were aware of the General Mid-term Election that took place on Nov. 8, 2022, evidenced by voter turnout. Said voter turnout was greater in 2022 than the previous two General Mid-term Elections.”
Neither, she said, was the court presented with any evidence that a person didn’t vote due to lack of notice. Or would have voted differently due to a lack of understanding the language in the ballot.
In reaching her decision, Maxwell quoted a case whose ruling included the following language: “When fairly expressed – free from taint of fraud of improper conduct – it becomes the duty of courts to sustain (elections), where it can be done by a liberal construction of the laws relating thereto, rather than defeat them by requiring a rigid conformity to technical stator directions, which do not affect the substantial rights of the electors.”
At issue here was whether the court should use a standard of “substantial compliance” or “strict compliance” in the case.
The judge referred to another case which explained that “the notice requirements may be relaxed for general elections, because the public is presumed to know when they are held.”
Therefore, she reasoned, in this case the “substantial compliance” standard is sufficient.
At issue was commissioners’ failing to run four required legal notices informing the public of the election and the wording on the ballot.
Commissioners and the hospital argued that there had been “substantial compliance” of the notice requirements, though they had been specifically met as the statute required.
While there are still issues to be resolved, the judge’s ruling was a key development in getting legal issues clarified so that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will allow collection of the 2 percent tax to move forward.
The state’s highest court had previously halted collection of the tax until various legal issues are resolved.