Voter intent laws do not require filling in oval
by Larry Sorensen
Albertville City Council
It doesn’t happen too often where a candidate running for office is told that they lost by one vote, then won by one vote, then tied, and finally won by a coin flip.
That is what happened to me this year, in my run for re-election to Albertville City Council. First of all, I want to thank fellow candidate Mark Barthel, the election officials, and our city staff for making certain that the recount process went smooth and was fair. As much as a person can enjoy sitting in a room for six hours and watching election judges go through all of the 3,700 plus ballots, I felt it was an interesting and educational process to be involved in.
After the recount was finished, each candidate had 1,116 votes. There had been one challenged ballot that wasn’t counted in that total. The election officials had ruled this was a vote for me. Each candidate at the recount has the right to challenge any vote, and when that occurs, a canvassing board (in our case the City Council) has to make the determination on the ballot in question.
This is where I feel the process failed. The City Council was given voter intent guidelines, statutes, and past court rulings from our City Attorney. Voter intent laws do not require a voter to fill in the complete oval nor do they require the voter to have uniform marks throughout their ballot. Even if a person were to circle the oval, place an X next to the candidate’s name, or circle the candidate’s name — these are all considered a vote. Our city attorney could find no cases similar to this ballot where the courts did not allow the vote.
All these things told us this was a vote, and if it had to go to a judge, I have no doubt that this would be ruled a vote. But when it came time for the City Council to make their decision, it was a split 2-2 vote (I abstained), with Mark Meehan and John Vetsch of the opinion that this wasn’t a vote.
We were told this meant the ballot would be thrown out, and a coin flip would determine the winner. With a split vote, had the coin flip gone the other direction, there was a very good possibility of the 2012 election results not getting certified by the City Council. The City Attorney explained that without a certified election, as of January, there would be no Mayor or two Council members, and that he would more than likely be in court, attempting to resolve this. Knowing all of this, and having all of the voter intent information described above in front of them, Mr. Meehan and Mr. Vetsch still voted to disallow the ballot, and go to a coin flip.
In the end, I am very grateful that the coin landed the way it did. I will continue to serve in an honest and respectful manner and will continue to put past differences aside and vote fairly on all issues, and I look forward to the next four years.