Honorable Men resolve mess.Posted Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 11:36 AM
For those people who think their vote doesn't ever count, last week's school board election is a perfect example of why they're wrong.
In most cases, school board elections have a low turnout. Not many people care, even though, in Elmore County, the school district is the largest employer (other than the airbase), has the largest budget of any government entity, impacts the lives of thousands of students and parents, and because of the extraordinary number of rules, regulations and mandates imposed on it by federal and state governments, is probably the most complicated of the local governments.
But turnouts are usually low and only occasionally is there any actual competition, as there was last week when C.D. Houston and William Murray squared off to replace Jo Gridley (an excellent school board trustee) who had decided not to run for re-election.
Only 91 voters showed up at the polls. Unfortunately, three showed up who shouldn't have. They didn't live inside Zone 4, for which the election was being held.
Frankly, the school trustee zone boundaries are a mess. They were put together several years ago, after the last census, by Idaho State University. The school district didn't want to be accused of gerrymandering any trustee zone, so they had an independent group (students and instructors) at ISU do the work, which met all the criteria for meeting the "one man, one vote" rules. But the boundaries, both inside and outside the city limits, twist and turn and most people don't know what zone they're in. Which is almost certainly what happened in this case. Those people who voted and shouldn't have, almost certainly made just an honest mistake, and due to human error the district didn't catch it before their votes went into the ballot box.
But in more than four decades of covering elections, I'd never seen a case, or even heard of one, where invalid ballots equalled or exceeded the margin of victory of a candidate. There have been a lot of times where ballots were challenged, but before they were actually counted. Or in the case of Florida a few years back, where machines had trouble counting them (the famous "hanging chads"), but never a case where it was determined ballots that were counted shouldn't have been cast in the first place.
And you can't ask the people how they voted, since that would violate the sanctity of the voting booth. Plus, I know a number of cases where people made public statements in support of a candidate, and then admitted to me later that they actually voted for the opponent.
So you simple don't know, and will never really know, for whom those three invalid votes were cast.
In the end, the school district opted to go with the actual count, and declared C.D. Houston to be the victor, by a three-vote margin over William Murray.
Both are honorable men. Murray, to his credit, offered his congratulations to Houston. And if Murray doesn't want to contest the election, then that result should stand.
But in truth, nobody really knows who won.
Here's the possible scenarios:
1) All three of the invalid votes went to Murray. In that case, Houston's margin of victory climbs to six votes.
2) The votes were split between Murray and Houston. In that case Houston's margin of victory shrinks to either one or two votes.
3) All three of the invalid votes went to Houston. In that case, the election is a tie, traditionally settled by a coin toss.
In two of the three cases, Houston wins. In the third case he faces Lady Luck to win a seat on the school board.
If someone challenges the election, it will wind up in court. A judge could simply rule in favor of one candidate or the other. He could order a new election. He could tell the candidates to try rock/paper/scissors to determine who won. Anything could happen.
In truth, I hope no challenge goes forward.
C.D.'s election, at least this time, will have a little taint to it, which really isn't fair to C.D. This wasn't his fault and he's a good man.
But this could easily be a much bigger mess. Kudos to Murray for deciding to accept the result without complaint. He has demonstrated a level of integrity we wish all politicians had and which bodes well for any future decisions he may make to seek public office. His honorable decision means the process of government can go forward without interruption.
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