If one of our reader’s concerns turns out to be true, the city of Eagle is playing sloppy with the election process and Saundra McDavid may have a claim to the office of mayor.
Idaho law leaves the conduct of local elections up to the local jurisdictions within general guidelines. Such is the case with the issue of runoffs. State law says cities can require a runoff if no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes cast–which happened in the three way race for Eagle mayor. Cities also may seat a candidate with a plurality–the most votes in a multiple candidate race.
Here is the only ordinance we could find relating to runoffs:
1-9-7: RUNOFF ELECTION:
A.Mayor: A city may, by ordinance, provide that a majority of the votes for any candidate running for the office of mayor shall be required for election to that office. In the event that no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, there shall be a runoff election between the two (2) candidates receiving the highest number of votes cast.
Saundra McDavid “won” with 1532 votes and Phil Bandy came in second with 1201. McDavid’s total amounted to 43% and Bandy garnered only 33%. A runoff is set for Dec. 4. Our reader says there is no requirement (s)he could find for a runoff–it just says a runoff MAY be required.
Reader Sharon Ullman points out the second sentence indeed declares there SHALL be a runoff and she contends the first sentence is the state code giving Eagle the authority and the second sentence IS the authority. For the record we favor a runoff and requiring candidates for ANY public office to get at least 50% of the votes cast.
Our reader however, claims the Eagle ordinance is ambiguous in that it seems to leave the issue of a runoff up to the city clerk who conducts the election. It appears the state code language saying the city “may require a runoff election” was adopted as a city ordinance, but the city never bothered to include language REQUIRING a runoff…or allowing the highest vote getter to be the winner. It just says they can ADOPT a runoff ordinance if they choose to do so and and IF such an ordinance is adopted it requires a majority of votes. The reader sees the language as ALLOWING a runoff.
The very real danger in all this is local government officials can interpret the system to the benefit of incumbents or their favorite candidate. In Boise the mayor is required to get more than 50% or face a runoff. However, city councilors changed a portion of the ordinance that applies to them, thus allowing the highest vote getter to be the winner. A “divide and conquer” strategy could get someone elected with as little as 26% in a four way race.
As it apparently stands in Eagle at the present time, the clerk could allow her favorite to be seated with a plurality, OR require a runoff if her favorite is #2. This leaves too much slack and the council needs to clear it up pronto.
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