Could write-ins still be in the race for Council?

City Clerk Sydney Muhle says ‘No’

Steve Robinson, District 1 Director for the Mohave County Republican Party, spoke during public comment at Tuesday's Council meeting. He believes the City made use of the incorrect statute in declaring write-in candidates who lacked the required votes to advance to the general election are finished in the current election cycle. (Photo by Travis Rains/Daily Miner)

Steve Robinson, District 1 Director for the Mohave County Republican Party, spoke during public comment at Tuesday's Council meeting. He believes the City made use of the incorrect statute in declaring write-in candidates who lacked the required votes to advance to the general election are finished in the current election cycle. (Photo by Travis Rains/Daily Miner)

KINGMAN – The importance of write-in candidates in the race for what is now two open Council seats cannot be overstated, as the failure of those individuals to advance to the general election could, as of now, lead to those seats being filled by Council appointment.

However, Tuesday’s Council meeting saw some question about how the unique write-in candidacy issue has been handled by the City.

Steve Robinson, District 1 Director for the Mohave County Republican Party, spoke to Council during public comment. He claimed, based on his research, City Clerk Sydney Muhle cited the wrong Arizona Revised Statute in declaring write-in candidates failing to meet the 537 vote threshold to advance to the general election ballot are finished in the current election cycle.

“The City’s complete and erroneous misapplication of the laws regarding write-in candidates is essentially stealing the election from the voters,” Robinson said.

The City has used ARS 16-645 in handling the write-in issue, he said, which applies to partisan elections. The Council election is not a partisan election. He claimed the correct statute that should have been referenced is 9-821.01. According to the statute that applies to nonpartisan city and town elections, write-ins could still be alive and well come November’s general election.

“If at the primary election no candidate receives the majority of the votes cast or the number of seats to be filled for the office is more than the number of candidates who receive a majority of votes cast, of the candidates who did not receive a majority of votes cast, the number of candidates who advance to the general or runoff election shall be equal in number to twice the number of seats to be filled for the office and the candidates who received the highest number of votes for the office shall be the only candidates at the general or runoff election,” the statute states.

What does that mean for Kingman?

If applied to write-ins and the primary election, that statute dictates the top four write-in candidates (twice the number of seats to be filled for the office) would advance to the general election. That would leave Deana Nelson, Ken Watkins, Scott Holtry and Harley Pettit in the race come November.

“I’m going to strongly encourage you to take a look at what you’re doing and your interpretation of the law because it violates the statute,” Robinson said.

Muhle said she and City Attorney Carl Cooper did exactly that Wednesday morning, found the City is in the right, and that Robinson “is incorrect in his interpretation of the statute.”

The city clerk explained that titles 9 and 16 work in conjunction with each other, and “there’s nothing in Title 9 that addresses write-in candidates, so Title 16 does apply.”

“We went back, double-checked everything,” Muhle said. “And Mr. Cooper even checked case law and there’s nothing in case law that would apply to Mr. Robinson’s interpretation.”

She added that Robinson’s argument left out a “key piece” of Title 16.

“It says that a candidate cannot file as a write-in candidate specifically in the general election if the candidate ran in the immediately preceding primary election and failed to be nominated for the office,” Muhle said.

The City’s use of Title 16 was confirmed by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Muhle said, once it became apparent that write-in candidates would play a significant role in the Council race.

“I’m not just going to say something without having thoroughly vetted the information,” Muhle said.

The Daily Miner reached out to Cooper and Allen Tempert, Mohave County election director, for comment but did not receive responses by press time.