Will Royster challenged a 40th District political dynasty three years ago and got screwed. Now, he won't let it go 

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Photo by Sabrina Staires

Will Royster thumbs through a pamphlet while patiently waiting for the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners' July 25 meeting to begin.

The clock on the wall is frozen at 8:58 in this dark, windowless room in Union Station's basement. Royster is equally frozen in time. He has waited three years to face the commissioners in this room, which he believes is the scene of one of the biggest election crimes in Missouri's history.

Commission chairwoman Megan Thornberry scraps the order of the meeting agenda and allows Royster to speak. Dressed in a blazer and a tie and habitually peering at those in the room from above his glasses, Royster says he won't take more than 15 minutes.

For the next half-hour, Royster repeats complaints about his one-vote loss to John Rizzo in the 2010 Democratic primary for state representative from Missouri's 40th District. Those grievances, Royster claims, amount to a systemic failure by authorities, such as the election board, to properly investigate that election's result.

Time hasn't soothed Royster's anger. The 50-year-old former Navy pilot, seated awkwardly at the boardroom table facing the commissioners, speaks about the election like a man who wants to remain calm and cordial but can barely restrain his frustration.

Since 2010, Royster has spent $35,000 of his own money in legal fees, first trying to get the election thrown out and later attempting to get its suspicious circumstances investigated.

"We're not here to retry this. That's not my point," Royster says, with his back turned to the election board's director, Shelley McThomas. "My point is to find truth and ask you to help me do that."

Royster says he's here on behalf of 663 Northeast Kansas City voters who were disenfranchised on August 3, 2010. He wants to know why authorities haven't seemed to care about sworn statements from election judges about improper polling-place electioneering.

Why, Royster wants to know, were 14 ballots lacking judges' initials allowed to count in the final tally? Why, he asks, did Rizzo get three recounts of the close 2006 election, which he lost to John Burnett, when Royster received only one?

Thornberry cuts Royster off, telling the failed candidate that she's bothered by his accusations that the commissioners botched the election, especially given that their lawyers aren't present (even though KCEB attorney David Raymond is seated at the table near her).

"If there are any more accusations of legal wrongdoing, I'm uncomfortable with that," Thornberry says.

"I understand you feel a little fingered," Royster says. "I felt like that for three years."

Royster rails on the election board, the Missouri Secretary of State's office and the Missouri Attorney General's office for not intervening in an election that looked suspicious, affirming instead the razor-thin margin and sending Rizzo to Jefferson City.

"Now you're suggesting a conspiracy was going on?" asks KCEB secretary Melodie Powell.

Royster hasn't used the word conspiracy, but he wonders why his research shows that votes appeared to have been cast from outside the 40th District and were allowed to count. Or why Jackson County Judge W. Stephen Nixon, who ruled against Royster's court challenge to the election result, soon after got a job as the Jackson County counselor. (Rizzo's father, Henry Rizzo, is a Jackson County legislator.)

"We cannot address whether a court committed a conspiracy," Thornberry says. "That's not our job."

Royster winds down his speech to the commissioners, half of whom haven't spoken. He wants the commissioners to acknowledge that voters cast illegal ballots and that there were other examples of election misconduct. But he won't get such an admission today.

"We turned this information in. We couldn't get any help with that," Royster says. "Nobody seemed to care."

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