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Ballots in Ames may have skewed results

Saturday, March 23, 2013 - Updated: 4:29 PM

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

AMES -- After initially deciding to discard results of Tuesday's village election in favor of a re-vote, the 59 ballots were instead counted Thursday night upon the advice of counsel.

However, officials said further action might be needed, as the ballot's poor design could have skewed results for the trustees' race.

The election was held to determine the entire board -- a mayor and two trustees --for the tiny village of 145 people, according to most recent U.S. Census data.

Unofficial results ultimately indicate no change in the in the village's government except a switch in positions. Outgoing Trustee Richard Wilday was elected mayor, incumbent Trustee Michael McMahon was re-elected, while outgoing Mayor Martin Wilcox launched a successful write-in campaign for the other available trustee post.

On paper, the trustee race was originally a three-way contest. Appearing on the ballot were McMahon, Sandra Malcolm, and Katie Bottger.

The ill-designed ballot grouped McMahon and Malcolm into a single box, advising voters to "pick one," pitting them against one another, while Bottger held her own line on the ballot, advising voters to "pick one" for that space, too.

To put another twist in the matter, Bottger was appointed village clerk at a business meeting last week, and no longer desired election as a trustee. Her appointment fulfilled the vacancy created by the resignation of Mari R. Bartholomew.

Attempts to reach Bottger, in her capacity as village clerk for the breakdown of election results, were unsuccessful Friday.

Montgomery County Attorney Doug Landon said his advice was sought after the election by Bottger, an employee of the county Department of Social Services. She serves as secretary to McMahon, the department's commissioner.

"I was not comfortable with the idea of the village board, on its own, deciding the election was defective, and simply deciding it was invalidated," Landon said, noting this is the first time he's done any legal work for the village.

Landon said he advised the village to open the results to see how they'd go.

When contacted by the Recorder Friday, Landon said he hadn't heard the results of Thursday's canvass, but said, "The outcome is relevant to determine whether the election is considered valid, or if it exposed continuing problems that might cause the attorney general's office to get involved."

When a Recorder reporter relayed the results, Landon said, "even if there is a problem with the trustee position, you wouldn't necessarily -- and I stress, necessarily -- have to invalidate the entire election."

"I don't think there is any question the design and the layout of the ballot was flawed and problematic, and in the future it should be changed," Landon said. "However, coming into it, the day after the election, and the votes were cast on that ballot, I have to analyze it from that perspective."

Landon said the likely outcome, since Bottger had already withdrawn from the race, was that McMahon and Malcolm would be elected.

But Wilcox's election as a write-in candidate "does change things, and this may need further evaluation."

Malcolm said she's not bitter that she lost the election, but "I don't think the way it was handled was correct."

"When I went to vote with my husband, everyone had a question about the ballot," she said. "It was very confusing."

Malcolm said she attended the canvass Thursday, after which a "heated discussion" arose about the results. She said she's still considering whether she will take any action.

"I've considered possibly contacting the attorney general, but so far, I haven't done that. There was a heated discussion [Thursday], and after that, I walked away to think about it and decide what's best for the village."

"I may just let this pass, and keep a closer eye on the elections in the future," Malcolm continued. "The village is small, and I don't want to alienate people or cause a rift."

McMahon said he thinks the village had no choice but to open the ballots. "We had to run the election through, because we would have been without a board effective April 1."

"I'm satisfied with the results," McMahon said. "It's a quaint little village, and it's sad for me to see it in strife."

A call to Wilcox's home phone rang unanswered Friday.

Of the mayoral race, candidate Donald Krutz said he's satisfied with the results.

"Even though I'm disappointed I lost, I thought everything was done correctly as far as the mayor's race is concerned, but the problem I had was the vote for trustee," Krutz said. "I felt because of the way the ballot was setup, it was a little confusing, and there was a possibility if there was a strong write-in the people on the ballot could lose because of the way it was set up. And in fact, that did happen."

A message left for Wilday was not returned Friday.

A spokesman at the state Board of Elections said because the election is handled by the village clerk, the state has no jurisdiction.

"If the election is not conducted by the county board, we're not involved," the spokesman said. "Whatever the clerk does, they have to make sure it's according to the law, and if the candidates don't like it, they'll have to go to court."

     

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