Weeks in the making, or perhaps years, depending on when one might measure the start of a career – the special election for Cooper County Coroner finally saw a winner on Tuesday night. The James Hurt campaign reaped the benefits of their door-to-door knocking, patience and planning and defeated challenger, Kevin Swartz, by a margin of 343 votes – or 16 percent.
August's earlier primary election provided each candidate with an almost unheard of 1,320 votes. Hurt opted for a special election after both he and Swartz were presented with the option of a "draw by lot." In theory, providing both campaigns agreed to the terms, anything could've decided the outcome and winner. A coin-flip, pick-a-card, straw-drawing, or even a game of one-on-one basketball may have determined who would next take office come January. If, however, one candidate desired another round of voting, it would have to be so.
"I've asked for a special election because I feel that it should be left up to the citizens of Cooper County to decide who will be the next coroner, not a 'coin toss'," he said earlier in the month.
Shortly after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, the results of all 10 Cooper County precincts were finalized and made available outside the Cooper County Clerk's courthouse office. Absentee ballot tallies were released much earlier and saw Hurt leading by only one vote. It was, at first, an indication that the election would follow the same route as August's earlier primary. Never assume based on early indications.
Hurt's coming victory, though, became clear – precinct release after precinct release. The Coroner re-takes office on January 1. He credits time with his win of this not-so-close election.
"I think it was the citizens of the community had a little more time to weight out the odds and look at the information a little better," Hurt said.
Weeks ago, Hurt campaigned on nothing new. If re-elected, his insistence on running the office the same way as it was already being run was reiterated yesterday.
"Things will be functionoing exactly the same. I think we're doing good with th policies we have. We'll continue to help educate the kids and help the school system and I'm going to continue on with my Deputy Coroner, who is doing a fantastic job," said Hurt.
Chris Howard, Hurt's Deputy Coroner and the first of his kind in Cooper County, works an unpaid position. His role is credited by the Coroner's Office with freeing up the county's Sheriff's Department from needing to involve themselves in death investigations.
"The reason they brought me on as deputy coroner is because legally, Missouri statutes dictate that the only people that can do death investigations are the Coroner, Deputy Coroner, Sheriff or Chief Deputy Sheriff. A lot of man-hours have been freed up because of my job, so the Sheriff's Office can focus on other things," Howard said.
The Deputy Coroner cited his combined experience with the Davis Funeral Chapel and Hurt's medicolegal background as the main reason for the turnaround in votes.
"We just got out and went above and beyond to get people's votes to inform the public of our qualifications," he said.
Howard's unpaid role is something the Coroner's Office hopes to see changed at some point.
Full results from Tuesday's special election are listed as provided by the Clerk's Office below.
Boonville Ward 1 – Swartz, 79 – Hurt, 142
Boonville Ward 2 – Swartz, 143 – Hurt, 237
Boonville Ward 3 – Swartz, 209 – Hurt, 331
Boonville Ward 4 – Swartz, 131 – Hurt, 166
Blackwater – Swartz, 53 – Hurt, 24
Clarks Fork – Swartz, 50 – Hurt, 60
Kelly – Swartz, 30 – Hurt, 57
Otterville – Swartz, 28 – Hurt, 20
Pilot Grove – Swartz, 112 – Hurt, 118
Prairie Home – Swartz, 34 – Hurt, 56
Absentee – Swartz, 55 – Hurt, 56
Totals – Swartz, 924 – Hurt, 1267