[¶ 1.] This case presents the question whether a petition for recount in a school district election is sufficient, when it is not verified as required by statute. After a school district referendum election approving a tax increase, a recount board was convened on a petition that was not verified. The recount board overturned the election. We conclude that absent verification, the recount petition was invalid, and because the recount board was convened invalidly, its decision overturning the school district election was also invalid. Thus, the circuit court's grant of a writ of certiorari reinstating the voters' approval of the tax increase is affirmed.
[¶ 2.] On May 14, 2001, the Brookings School Board unanimously passed a $750,000 tax increase, authorized under SDCL 10-13-36.
[¶ 3.] On September 21, 2001, five persons signed and filed with the School Board a document seeking a recount. As this document was clearly not in proper form, the business manager for the school district notified one of the signers of its insufficiency. Thereafter, with the assistance of counsel, a new recount petition was prepared, signed by four voters, and submitted.
[¶ 4.] In the process of counting the ballots, the recount board members discovered that 77 absentee ballots had not been properly stamped. The absentee voters themselves had fully complied with all election law requirements and their ballots were in proper form. In processing these ballots on election night, however, one of the precinct officials had forgotten to place the official precinct ballot stamp on them. Consequently, the recount board members voted 2-1 to discard all 77. Of these, 55 approved the tax increase and 22 disapproved.
[¶ 5.] In response to the recount board's decision, two registered voters, who had participated in the referendum election, petitioned the circuit court to issue a writ of certiorari under SDCL 21-31-1, requiring the initial tally to be entered as the voters' decision. They asserted that the petition for recount was legally defective, being unverified, and the business manager therefore had no authority to appoint a recount board. They contended that because the recount board acted without jurisdiction, its decision was a nullity, and a writ of certiorari was the only expeditious remedy available. The respondents were the three recount board members: Edwin J. Luetzow, one of the signers of the petition for recount, Ronald C. Aho, a representative of the other side, and James Gilkerson, selected by the other
[¶ 6.] On appeal, Luetzow contends that (1) the circuit court erred in granting the writ of certiorari on the ground that the recount board exceeded its jurisdiction; (2) the court erred in granting a writ of certiorari when the petitioners had a plain, speedy, and adequate remedy at law; and (3) the court erred in finding that the opt-out referendum election process, including the official recount, did not result in a free and fair expression of the will of the voters of the Brookings School District. We need not address the last argument because we deem the first two to be dispositive.
Recount Board Invalidly Convened
[¶ 7.] We begin our analysis with SDCL 13-7-19.3, which provides in relevant part:
(Emphasis added). It is undisputed that the margin of approval was less than two percent of the total votes cast and that four registered voters signed a notarized petition setting forth their belief that a recount would change the outcome. However, it is also undisputed that none of the signatories swore, under oath, that the content of the petition was true. Thus, one of the three statutory conditions for investing the business manager with the authority to appoint a recount board remained unmet.
[¶ 8.] The concept of verification has a special meaning in the law. The first definition assigned to the word "verify" by Black's Law Dictionary is "[t]o confirm or substantiate by oath or affidavit." 1561 (7th ed 1999). Thus, a "verification" is a "[c]onfirmation of correctness, truth, or authenticity, by affidavit, oath, or deposition; [or][an][a]ffidavit of [the] truth of [the] matter stated[;] ... the object of verification is to assure good faith in averments or statements of parties." Id. Here, no oath or affidavit verified the petition for recount. Verification is important, particularly when, as here, the petition impugned the result of an election.
[¶ 9.] We faced the verification requirement in a recent case. See In the Matter of the Election Contest as to Watertown Special Referendum Election of October 26, 1999, Pertaining to Referred Ballot Issues No. 1 and 2, 2000 SD 43, 607 N.W.2d 920. There, both the majority and dissenters agreed that no verification resulted unless the signatories took an oath to affirm the truth of the matter asserted, the majority holding that an oral verification sufficed, the dissenters believing that a written verification was required. Id. at ¶¶ 9, 14, 21, 607 N.W.2d at 923, 924, 926.
[¶ 10.] Being unverified, the petition presented to the business manager was invalid. Thus, the trial court correctly
[¶ 11.] Nonetheless, Luetzow argues that courts have no authority to review the recount board's decision. See SDCL 12-21-6 (certiorari proceedings are excluded in school and municipal elections). He quotes footnote 3 from Becker: "Except for allegations of a corrupt election and procedures provided for their resolution under SDCL ch 12-22, the [L]egislature has determined the recount board is the final arbiter of any question arising out of a municipal election recount dispute." 1999 SD 17 at ¶ 11 n. 3, 588 N.W.2d at 917 n. 3. Luetzow insists that school district election recounts fall under the same category. However, in Becker, we also wrote:
Id. at ¶ 15, 588 N.W.2d at 917-18.
[¶ 12.] We have never regarded as unreviewable a decision of a recount board called into existence invalidly. On the contrary, SDCL 21-31-1 specifically empowers courts to invoke writs of certiorari when "boards ... have exceeded their jurisdiction[.]" As the board was invalidly convened, it acted without jurisdiction.
No Other Adequate Remedy
[¶ 13.] A writ of certiorari issuing in equity is an extraordinary remedy; like a writ of prohibition, it may issue only when the petitioner is without "any other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy." SDCL 21-31-1; Sorenson v. Rickman, 486 N.W.2d 259, 261 (S.D.1992).
[¶ 14.] Here, the root problem, of course, was the validity of the 77 unstamped ballots; there was no question of the validity of the election process itself. Therefore, an election contest would provide no remedy. Issuance of a writ of certiorari was the only alternative open to petitioners as a means of challenging the recount board's jurisdiction to act. Luetzow's remaining arguments are without merit.
[¶ 15.] As the petition for recount was invalid, so also was the decision of the recount board, since it acted without jurisdiction.
[¶ 16.] Affirmed.
[¶ 17.] GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and SABERS, AMUNDSON, and ZINTER, Justices, concur.