MUSD write-in election controversial - The Explorer: Import

MUSD write-in election controversial

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Posted: Wednesday, December 1, 2004 12:00 am | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Nov. 17, 2004 - The dust surrounding the Marana Unified School District governing board refuses to settle, although - albeit unofficially - one of the six write-in candidates has won the race.

Albert Siqueiros received the most votes from those who voted correctly for the special term to fill the two-year vacancy left by former board member Sandi Nielson.

He might join current board members Dan Post and Bill Kuhn and newcomers Pat Teager and Maribel Lopez this January - unless Lopez's eligibility to serve on the board is successfully contested by Board President Janice Mitich.

While the votes have been counted and tallied, the matter may not end there, MUSD write-in candidates said. The candidates said they received several phone calls the morning of the election from MUSD residents who were worried they might have voted incorrectly. Concerns about the election ranged from the names of the six candidates not being prominently posted to voters who wrote the name of a candidate in the section for the four-year term rather than the two-year term.

Win or lose, candidate John Lewandowski said he would approach the county elections department and request that it improve the way it informs voters of such situations.

"People should have a right to vote, and people should have a right to vote for the candidate they want," Lewandowski said.

More than 32,000 voters in the Marana Unified School District cast a ballot in the Nov. 2 general election. Not all of them voted for an MUSD board member, as there were more than 10,000 blank votes in the four-year-term race. Of the votes for the four-year term, slightly more than 2.5 percent- or 1,454 - were write-in votes, according to the Pima County elections Web site. Because there were no eligible write-in candidates for that term, none of those votes were counted, said Brad Nelson, Pima County elections director.

The write-in election was a separate question on the ballot. More than 2,500 voters filled in the bubble for that race. However, only about 1,500 of those were counted, Nelson said.

Lewandowski said many who voted for a write-in candidate in the four-year term may have intended their vote to count toward the two-year term. Other write-in candidates, Bonnie Demorotski and Sherry Nations, had the same concern.

Nations said she wanted to know the count of the MUSD write-in candidates for the four-year term. However, Nelson said the elections department does not record that tally and Arizona law only allows the ballots to be examined with a court order.

In contrast to the number of write-ins for Marana's four year term, in the Tucson Unified School District election, which also had no valid write in candidates, 908 out of 185,000 - less than half a percent - wrote in the name of a candidate. In the uncontested Amphitheater School District election, just more than half a percent of those who voted in the race cast a vote for a write-in candidate.

According to the write-in results, Siqueiros received 568, or 22 percent, of the nearly 2,600 write-in votes. Lewandowski received 418, or 16 percent, and Demorotski received 252, or 9.8 percent. Nations and two other candidates, Rick McAtee and Chad Riester, each received less than 100 votes. More than 1,000 votes for the write-in term were not counted toward any of the candidates. In these cases, voters wrote the name of an ineligible candidate or filled in the bubble for the special term while leaving the line blank, said Romie Romero, the administrative support specialist for the Pima County elections division.

Nations said she wanted to know how many votes each of the write-in candidates received in the race for the four-year term, because the MUSD race had such a high number of write-ins for the four-year term. If that has an effect on the outcome of the election, Nations said she would take action to address her concerns.

Nelson said votes in the four-year term wouldn't count toward the two-year term because vote counters cannot speculate about how MUSD residents intended to vote. He said the county takes steps to inform voters about the ballot and precinct inspectors are present at every voting location to answer any questions.

However, Nations said the elections department and local newspapers did not do enough to inform MUSD voters.

"I don't think the polling places did a good job of letting people know how they were supposed to vote," Nations said.

Inspectors from Precincts Six, 223 and 227, which are located within MUSD boundaries, said they were available to answer questions voters had about the ballot, and some said they remembered addressing concerns about the MUSD special term write-in race.

Daniel Carman, the Precinct Six inspector, said he remembered "quite a few" voters who marked the write-in vote in the wrong place. When that happened he and other precinct officials told MUSD residents the correct place to mark their ballot, he said. At Precinct Six, he said voters most likely voted correctly.

"I think everybody that left our polling place understood how to do it," he said.

John Christos, the Precinct 223 inspector, said he did not remember many voters coming to him with questions about the MUSD special term write-in race. He said some voters asked about write-in candidates in general, and when they did, he would point them to the official list posted on the wall. He said he received no special instruction about how to deal with the MUSD write-in race.

Hazel Lilly, the Precinct 227 inspector, also said she did not remember very many people coming to her with questions about the MUSD write-in race. She said that polling officials must attend a class where they receive clear instructions about how to assist people with voting. As with other precinct inspectors, she said she referred some voters to the list of official write-in candidates, but did not remember having any specific problems with the MUSD write-in race.

Each of the precinct inspectors said the list of eligible voters was clearly displayed in their polling place.

Still, Nations said many people might have voted incorrectly by putting the name of a two-year candidate in the four-year race. She said she requested to see the discarded ballots, but was told she couldn't without a court order. For that reason she's contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to see what steps must be taken to examine those ballots.

"I would like to see what ballots were thrown out and what the names on them were," Nations said.

Both Nations and Lewandowski said action should be taken to ensure confusion does not occur in a future write-in election.

Lewandowski said he believes many voters had trouble understanding the ballot.

"There was some confusion about the way the ballot was written," he said. "Not only because there were no names (of write-in candidates) written on the ballot, but also because the races were so far apart."

Lewandowski said voters had trouble with the fact that the four-year term was on the bottom of the ballot and the two-year was on the top of the next column. Another problem was that the words "no candidate" appeared in the two-year term.

Nelson said the ballot was written according to state law.

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