published Friday, March 8th, 2013

Chattanooga election hinges on write-ins


by Cliff Hightower

WRITE-IN BALLOTS

The Hamilton County Election Commission released the names of the seven write-in candidates in District 9 on Thursday. They are:

• Melony Collins

• J.J.

• Two check marks

• Andraé McGary

• Moses Freeman

• Michael Dwayne Davenport

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

STATE LAW

Tennessee Code Annotated 2-7-133 states write-in candidates must file with the election commission to have their votes counted:

“Any person attempting to be elected by write-in ballots shall complete a notice requesting such person’s ballots be counted in each county of the district no later than twelve o’clock (12:00) noon, prevailing time, fifty (50) days before the general election. Such person shall only have votes counted in counties where such notice was completed and timely filed.”

CITY CHARTER

The city charter states the winner will be the candidate with the most “ballots cast:”

“In each city primary election hereafter held if any candidate for mayor, city judge or city council member shall receive a majority of the votes cast for all candidates for the office or administrative post for which he was a candidate, he shall be declared elected, and given a certificate of election, and his name shall not be placed on the ballot in the regular election.”

Former Chattanooga City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem could be just a few votes shy of winning the District 9 race, but incumbent Peter Murphy maintains the election should go to a runoff.

Write-in votes for the race were released Thursday. The list showed five names written in and two check marks over the blank for write-in candidates.

“It changes absolutely nothing,” Murphy said. “The votes were cast. It may be under state law not a vote counted, but it is a vote cast.”

Hal North, attorney for Hakeem, said Thursday he couldn’t see how anyone could accept two check marks as a vote for a write-in candidate.

“That’s just unbelievable,” he said.

Hakeem said his campaign was prepared to move forward either in a runoff or in court.

The Hamilton County Election Commission voted 5-0 Thursday to look further at the write-in ballots and decide on Wednesday whether there will be a runoff.

To avoid a runoff, a candidate must win 50 percent of the vote plus one vote. Hakeem’s 1,030 votes put him at 49.98 percent of the vote, compared with 1,024 votes for Murphy.

If the write-in or checked ballots are thrown out, Hakeem wins.

That’s what City Attorney Mike McMahan said may happen.

Under state law, write-in candidates have to register with their local election commission to have their votes counted. There were no official write-ins in the 9th District.

Since the City Charter doesn’t mention how write-ins should be treated in a Chattanooga election, state law should rule, McMahan said Thursday night.

“It’s state law that applies, and if it’s state law, then Murphy is about six or seven votes short,” McMahan said.

Murphy has said the City Charter specifically calls for “votes cast” to be counted in elections and not “votes counted.”

“I trust the election commission will follow the law,” he said.

A run-off election would be held April 9.

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