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Ward vote fails due to under-votes

By Staff | Nov 8, 2010

Maddie Armon, 10, accompanies her mother, Gwen Armon, into the voting booth in Blue Earth on Tuesday. Gwen Armon says her fourth-grade daughter has a real interest in the whole election process and wanted to see how the voting is done.

When the votes in Blue Earth were totaled at 11 p.m. last Tuesday, it appeared that the question whether to eliminate the city’s wards had passed 661 to 606.

Several area news media reported that the wards would be eliminated, based on those numbers.

However, by Wednesday morning questions arose about counting under-votes – those Blue Earth residents who had voted in the election, but did not vote either yes or no on the ward question.

Adding those totals to the number of no votes, the measure had actually failed 747 to 661.

The answer to the question of counting the under-votes was still not totally clear to local officials, however.

“We are having the city attorney research the language in the City Charter, and state law,” City Administrator Kathy Bailey says. “He will advise the council at the next City Council meeting on Nov. 15 as to how the votes should be counted – whether the under-votes have to be counted as no votes.”

At that meeting the council serves as the Canvassing Board and certifies the election results.

“I will report on the issue to the council at the next regular meeting,” City Attorney David Frundt says, but adds, “statute states the issue must be approved by a majority of those voting in the election.”

Mayor Rob Hammond, one of the five persons who circulated a petition to put the question on the ballot, expressed his disappointment in the results.

“I think the fact that most people who voted on the measure were in favor of it indicates a little more than half of the citizens want the change,” Hammond says. “Now it is up to the city attorney to make the right determination so that we (the council) make the proper decision.”

Hammond also commented on the wording of the question.

“We had to outline the exact wording of the changes to the City Charter, so the wording was a little confusing,” Hammond says. “I don’t know how to address that issue. Since the vote was so close, maybe it will be on the ballot again, and someone can word it differently.”

Mike Enger led a group which opposed changing the City Charter and eliminating the wards.

“I’m hopeful we will still have wards for many, many years,” Enger says. “We have been well served by the ward system and I hope it stays that way. There is a reason our founding fathers put the ward system into the charter – so that the citizens are fairly and equally represented on the council.”

Enger agreed that the wording on the ballot was confusing, and may have been a reason some people did not vote on the question.

“But, I think it was clear, according to the City Council themselves, that a non-vote on the question has to be counted as a no vote,” Enger says. “I would hope the council sticks to that statement at the next meeting.”