“I take the blame for the ordinance that’s terribly done,” Mesquite City Councilman Kraig Hafen said Wednesday, June 22 as he led the discussion to accept the results of the June 14 primary election for three seats on the council.
At issue was language in the city ordinance governing local elections rewritten in 2011 that led some to believe the two leading vote-getters, Brian Wursten and incumbent councilman George Rapson, won two of the seats available in the election. Wursten came in first with 1,243 votes with a close second by Rapson who garnered 1,230 votes.
Because of the 50 percent-plus-1 vote rule outlined in the ordinance, Wursten and Rapson apparently had won allowing only the next two vote-getters, David Ballweg and Cindi Delaney, to advance to the general election in November.
Originally, the idea was that the 6,626 votes cast for all candidates would be divided by three, which is 2,208 votes per seat. To reach the 50-plus-1 threshold, a candidate had to get at least 1,104 plus one votes. Both Wursten and Rapson exceeded that mark.
Ballweg took third place with 1,087 votes while Delaney came in fourth with 955 votes. Dave West got 793 votes for fifth place, Mike Benham came in sixth place with 687 votes and CJ Larsen came in last place with 631 votes.
The primary election had 2,625 voters cast ballots.
Hafen said the ordinance language was meant to refer to single-seat elections. “I still don’t know how I voted on something like this. It’s un-American.” He went on to say that the 50 percent-plus-1 vote rule was not meant to apply in a multiple-seat election.
Councilman Rich Green agreed saying the ordinance language was not applicable in this case. He said that more voters were likely to turn out for the general election in November than did the primary election, giving more citizens an opportunity to help select the three winning candidates for city council.
Councilman Geno Withelder concurred with Hafen and Green adding that he too voted on the new ordinance in 2011 not fully understanding what the changes meant in a three-way election. “Looking back on it, it was probably a wrong thing to do,” Withelder said.
All three councilors agreed to bring a new ordinance before council to rectify the language problem. They also voted unanimously to have six of the seven primary election candidates go forward to the general election. By state law, only two candidates per seat can go to the general election.
Upon advice from City Attorney Bob Sweetin, sitting councilors Rapson and Delaney abstained from the entire meeting.
Sweetin also said the ordinance update in 2011 was designed to change the dates of elections to coincide with state and federal elections and “was not designed to change how vote counts are calculated. I promise the issue will be on the next council agenda.”
Hafen said, “There’s never been a candidate in the primary that didn’t have 50 percent plus one of the actual voters win and not go forward to the general election. The intent is to respect the right of the voter.”
In an interview later with the Mesquite Local News, Wursten said “I agree with the original interpretation of how the votes were calculated. However, I’m good with the decision made by the council. I will do my very best in November and try to win a seat on the council so I can help the city of Mesquite.”
Rapson told the MLN later “I appreciate all of the support I received in the primary election. I respect the decision the council made. I will go forward and do my best to win in the general election.”
Benham said that he appreciated the council’s action and “they made the right decision. Now it’s up to the public in November.”
Ballweg agreed saying “we’ll keep doing what we did in the primary.”
“When the ordinance gets fixed, it will be much clearer on how to do the math,” Delaney said. “The way the ordinance is written now is a mess.”
West, who would not have been included in the general election mix, said “we’re respecting the rights of the voters and not assuming how the votes could have been cast. I commend the integrity of all the candidates. Regardless of who wins in November, the city will be in good hands.”