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For the week of Nov. 10, 1999 through Nov. 16, 1999

New law confuses Hailey election volunteers, delays results

Votes for "Dr. Evil" and "Popeye" draw criticism

Express Staff Writer

Election night in Hailey was a comedy turned nightmare.

During the Nov. 2 election confusion, ballots in Hailey were mishandled by volunteers. Results were delayed. Some voters were rebuked by poll volunteers for voting for imaginary characters like "Dr. Evil" and "Popeye."

And, as in Ketchum, long lines, generated by the big recreation bond issue, frayed voters’ tempers.

What’s more, the Hailey voting confusion occurred in an election in which the two council seats weren’t even contested.

Despite disagreement between city officials and election volunteers as to the correct number of votes cast in the city election, the Hailey City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the election results.

Cause of the disagreement was a new state law that requires write-in candidates to register at least 14 days before an election. The law states that no write-in candidate "shall be counted unless a declaration of intent has been filed."

Hailey had no such candidates registered by election day, yet of the 733 ballots cast, 44 included write-in votes and were deemed spoiled by election volunteers.

Election judge April Mac-Leod, whose job it was to count the ballots after polls closed Tuesday night, said she wrongly assumed a ballot with any number of write-ins should be considered entirely spoiled, regardless of whether there was another correctly marked vote for a legitimate candidate on the ballot.

But, she said, "There seems to be a lot of confusion as to how the ballots are counted."

City Clerk Heather Dawson agreed.

Dawson said that instructions provided by the state are vague, but in her understanding, ballots with one unregistered write-in and one legitimate vote should not have been entirely spoiled.

If the ballots had been counted that way, the two city council candidates, Susan McBryant and Rick Davis, each would have received about 10 more votes each. But unless either McBryant or Davis asks for a recount within 20 days of the election, the current results will go into record.

Dawson said that a request for a recount is unlikely because the election was uncontested.

MacLeod said the uncontested election was the cause of the high number of write-in votes in the first place. What’s more, she said, many voters didn’t realize the election was uncontested until they received a ballot.

MacLeod said people asked, "Why am I voting on this?"

Some handed back blank ballots. At least one wrote "no contest" on a ballot. Others cast votes for Daryl James, Other, Mini Me, Dr. Evil, No Confidence and Popeye.

"It’s not a joking matter," MacLeod said. "I think voters need to accept some responsibility" for the problems the city and election volunteers had in canvassing the votes.

MacLeod said voters need to be better informed about how the election process works so that problems can be avoided in the future.

The state agrees. The secretary of state’s office recommended that cities not include instructions about voting for write-in candidates on ballots. It is the responsibility of write-in candidates, not the city, to inform voters of their candidacy, the secretary of state’s office argued.

For her part, Dawson admitted that she did not communicate clearly with election volunteers before the election about how the votes should be counted.

In the future, Dawson said, she plans to oversee the counting of ballots after polls close on election day.

In Ketchum, city clerk, Sandy Cady said long voter lines were due to a consolidation of precinct voting places in a non-mayoral-year election and that the bond issue produced an unexpectedly high turnout.

But, she said, in her experience, it’s not unusual for things to get backed up when a county and city election are held simultaneously in a single room, as they were last Wednesday.


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.