KINGMAN – Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen ruled in favor of plaintiff and write-in Council candidate Ken Watkins on Thursday, a finding that will lead to the top four write-in candidates from the primary election advancing to the general election ballot.
Watkins and his attorney, Andy Gordon, as well as representation for the City of Kingman, City Attorney Carl Cooper, more or less provided the totality of their arguments to the judge during consideration of the City’s motion to dismiss the case. That motion was denied by Judge Jantzen, but when it came time to take up Watkins' verified complaint, attorneys for both parties said they had no further arguments other than what was already presented.
Cooper told the judge that the City had interpreted the statutes in question according to the Arizona League of Cities and Towns Elections Manual. The primary statute utilized by the City to determine write-ins would not advance to the general election ballot was ARS 16-645. However, Watkins had taken the position that ARS 9-821.01 should have been used. The former statute applies to partisan elections, the plaintiff argued, while the latter pertains to non-partisan elections. City Council elections in the City of Kingman are non-partisan.
“When we look at the statutes involved, we do believe that title 9-821.01(f) is the statute that has an impact on the elections process, but there’s more than just that statute,” the city attorney said.
Cooper said Title 16 also needed to be considered by City Clerk Sydney Muhle.
“There’s a number of statutes in there that we feel conflict, if you go with the true literal reading of the statute, that there’s some intent that may fall by the wayside if we just look at ARS 9-821.01,” Cooper argued.
Cooper explained that the proper channels in addressing the issue required ARS 16 to be considered prior to ARS 9-821.01, as the vote threshold required for candidates is included in the former statute.
He continued by saying the City feels the state legislature “inadvertently,” left out non-partisan in ARS 16-645, and that it should be interpreted to include non-partisan elections and candidates.
But Gordon argued the statutes need to be interpreted as written, and that ARS “9-821.01(f) fits this situation exactly.”
“If they want to write this another way, they could do that,” he said in reference to the legislature. “But they didn’t. Here the statute is completely clear.”
The judge ruled in favor of that argument, declaring the top four write-in candidates should advance to the ballot.
“I believe the statute has to be interpreted, must be interpreted, as it reads,” Jantzen said. “And I’m not saying it’s a good statute or a bad statute, I’m not saying the statute makes common sense … the reality is the statute is the statute and you have to go with the statute.”
The top four write-in candidates from the primary election are Ken Watkins, Deana Nelson, Scott Holtry and Harley Pettit.
“I think the law was interpreted correctly, and that’s really what we were hoping for,” Watkins said after the hearing, adding that Jantzen clarified that “the law is the law.”
Harley Pettit and Deana Nelson were also in attendance.
“Our ultimate goal was simply just to make sure that the Council wasn’t just picking whomever they wanted to have on the ballot,” Nelson said. “That this was the opportunity for the citizens of Kingman to actually be on the ballot.”
Watkins and Nelson said most importantly, the court’s ruling gives the citizens of Kingman a choice.