Caldwell City Council candidate Evangeline Beechler is formally requesting a runoff election over a question about whether a winning candidate must receive a majority of the votes.
Beechler is planning to submit a letter Friday from her attorney to Caldwell city officials, Canyon County election officials, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office asking for a runoff, according to Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, Beechler’s campaign treasurer.
John McGee was the apparent winner — and declared the winner by the county — in Tuesday’s election. McGee received 1,291 votes, or 39.24%, in a three-way race. McGee fell short of a majority, though. Beechler received the second-highest vote total, at 1,005, or 30.55%. Incumbent council member Chuck Stadick came in third, with 994 votes, or 30.21%.
Even though McGee was the top vote-getter, city code states, “Members of the Caldwell city council shall be elected by a majority of the qualified electors as established by the Idaho Code,” causing some question as to whether there should be a runoff election.
Canyon County spokesman Joe Decker said Wednesday that the wording in the code is not specific enough, such as “50% plus one” as a definition for “majority,” so a runoff likely wouldn’t be needed. Decker also said Canyon County officials were consulting with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and were awaiting a letter from the AG’s office to confirm that opinion.
However, neither the Idaho Attorney General’s Office nor the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office is looking into the matter, both offices said Thursday.
Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said that if he were asked, he would refer the question back to the city attorney or the county’s prosecuting attorney. Denney said his office sometimes will be asked for advice or counsel in cases such as this, but that isn’t the case this time.
Similarly, Scott Graf, spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said, “Nothing is underway in this office.”
Caldwell city attorney Mark Hilty, city clerk Debbie Geyer and Mayor Garret Nancolas could not be reached for comment Thursday. Decker also could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The city of Caldwell issued a statement Thursday afternoon: “Legal review of the City Council election for seat 6 is winding down. However, the issue is taking longer to reach a conclusion than the City of Caldwell anticipated. No decision has yet been made, but legal counsel fully expects to reach a decision by the end of the day ... November 8.”
Beechler, having come in second, would be involved in a runoff against McGee if there is one.
“It feels important to ensure transparency as we navigate this unexpected bump,” according to the statement sent to the Statesman earlier on Thursday, before she had decided to formally request a runoff. “I am thoughtfully and diligently working with my team and legal experts to figure out next steps to ensure we quantify what is in existing city code. If the law requires a runoff, it potentially means city code hasn’t been followed for up to 30 years when ordinance 1830 was signed into law by the mayor of Caldwell in 1989.
“Caldwell residents need to be reassured that their city leaders are following the law. I hope we find resolve soon. We should also thank the brave Caldwell residents for bringing this to everyone’s attention and holding everyone involved accountable.”
Caldwell’s city code seems pretty clear, and “majority” means “a number greater than half the total,” going by the dictionary definition.
By definition, no candidate received a number greater than half the total.
Caldwell’s ordinance does reference a section of state code, “The City Council does, by this action, find that the citizens of Caldwell would be best served by providing for the election of Council persons by designated Council seats pursuant to Idaho Code Section 50-707.”
So what does Idaho Code 50-707 say?
Not much, it turns out. Section 50-707 states only: “ASSIGNMENT OF COUNCIL SEATS. Any city, by ordinance, may assign a number to each council seat. Upon the adoption of such an ordinance, and at least one hundred twenty (120) days prior to the next general election, the city clerk shall assign a number for each council seat. Any candidate seeking election to the council shall file for one (1) of the assigned council seats.”
However, there is a subsection of 50-707, which is 50-707B, titled “Majority may be required for election,” and that is a little more of interest here.
“A city may, by ordinance, provide that a majority of the votes for any candidate running for a council seat adopted by a city in accordance with section 50-707 or 50-707A, Idaho Code, shall be required for election to that office,” according to 50-707B. “In the event 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.”
State code allows cities to require, by ordinance, that candidates be elected by a majority. Caldwell’s ordinance clearly states “majority.” Caldwell’s code also cites “Ord. 1830, 9-25-1989,” indicating that this portion of city code was passed by ordinance on Sept. 25, 1989.
Stadick said he thinks that if there is a runoff, those who voted for him will vote for Beechler.
Even though Stadick has been a strong conservative voice on the council and Beechler is a Democrat, Stadick said he personally would vote for Beechler over McGee, and he would encourage his supporters to vote for Beechler, mainly because of McGee’s past.
McGee, while he was a state senator, was arrested in 2011 on a DUI charge and a felony charge for allegedly stealing an SUV and crashing it in a driveway in Meridian. McGee pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI, sparing him a felony conviction that would have forced him from the Senate. The following year, McGee resigned from the Senate when a female staff member accused him of propositioning her for sex and making a series of other unwanted sexual advances inside his Idaho Capitol office, where at times McGee locked the door behind them. McGee eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disturbing the peace and completed a 39-day stint in jail.
McGee could not be reached for comment.
Stadick said he thinks candidates should be elected by more than 50%.
“That’s only fair,” he told the Statesman on Thursday. “I think it’s a good rule. If it weren’t a good rule, they wouldn’t have put it in there in the first place.”
But the clock is ticking.
State code states that a runoff election must happen “within thirty (30) days of the general election.”
Even sooner, though, “The ballot shall be prepared by the county clerk not less than twenty-two (22) days preceding the runoff election. The designation of polling places shall be made by the county commissioners not less than twenty (20) days preceding any runoff election, and sample ballots shall be printed not less than eighteen (18) days preceding the runoff election.”
The city of Boise is having a runoff election in the mayor’s race on Dec. 3. Lauren McLean received 45.7% of the vote and will face Dave Bieter, who received 30.3%
The city of Boise’s ordinance for the mayoral election has similar wording as Caldwell’s City Council election ordinance: “The Mayor of the City shall be elected by a majority of the votes cast for any candidate running for the Office of Mayor.
“Runoff Election: In the event 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.”