The Morning Report
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Wednesday, May 25, 2005 | It will be a traditional vote in an atypical election.
The City Council on Tuesday rejected a proposal by the City Clerk’s Office to conduct the July 26 special mayoral election by mail-in ballot only, an effort that would have shaved the cost of a $2-million to $3-million election in half.
Despite the tempting cost savings, the majority of council members worried that a rushed, experimental election to select a successor for resigned Mayor Dick Murphy could lead to a repeat of the mayhem caused by his disputed November victory.
“We just went through an election in November that caused all kinds of turmoil in this city,” Murphy said. The election was tipped in his favor after a judge threw out more than 5,500 write-in votes cast for Councilwoman Donna Frye because voters failed to shade in the oval after writing-in her name.
“To have another disputed election,” Murphy continued, “boy, I think that would be of great harm to the city.”
The mayor, like Councilmen Michael Zucchet and Jim Madaffer, said they had been prepared to approve the mail-in ballots Tuesday, but were swayed by fears of more election strife.
The proposal was rejected by a vote of 7-to-2, with Frye and Councilman Tony Young dissenting. Council members Scott Peters, Toni Atkins, Brian Maienschein and Ralph Inzunza were joined in the majority by Zucchet, Madaffer and Murphy.
In these cash-strapped times at City Hall, City Clerk Chuck Abdelnour had suggested the mail-in method to save money and encourage voter turnout, which can be especially low during special elections.
Murphy announced his resignation last month, effective July 15. The primary election to name his successor is scheduled for July 26. If a candidate doesn’t win more than 50 percent of the votes cast, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held in the fall.
Three major candidates have so far declared their intentions to run: Frye, former police Chief Jerry Sanders and businessman Steve Francis. Both Francis and Sanders opposed Tuesday’s measure. Candidates have until Friday to file campaign papers and qualify for the ballot.
The city pioneered the mail-in ballot in 1981 for a measure on the San Diego Convention Center, according to a memo from Abdelnour.
However, council members repeatedly expressed their concerns that the ballots could be susceptible to fraud, shenanigans or dispute. Instead, the council directed the clerk’s office to completely study the issue and make the proposal at a later date.
“It’s a rush job,” Zucchet said.
Ballots would have had to be mailed to registered voters in about four weeks, and the election would be held four weeks after that. Each ballot would arrive to the voter with an informational booklet, postage-paid return envelope and ballot. Ballots could then be either returned by mail or dropped off at the office of the Registrar of Voters.
“I think it would be worth a try,” Peters said.
Since 1998, all elections in the state of Oregon have been conducted using mail-in ballots.
Priscilla Southwell, an expert on the form of voting and a political science professor at the University of Oregon, said it has increased voter turnout and saved money. Her studies have shown no evidence of voter fraud or favor toward any political party, she said.
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