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Goodyear election math gets fuzzier

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Goodyear, you’ve got some ’splainin’ to do.

Remember that editorial we wrote back in March after the city’s primary election? The editorial that explained what under votes and over votes are? The editorial that spelled out how the city actually adds those votes into the total vote count to determine the number of votes needed to win the primary? The editorial that disclosed that Brannon Hampton would have won the primary outright if not for under and over votes? The editorial that told Goodyear residents that those under and over votes cost them a lot of dough for a runoff election?

Well, the city is finally admitting that something might be amiss.

Let’s rewind a bit. When the results were released for the March 14 primary election, we called it. We said incumbents Joe Pizzillo and Wally Campbell and newcomer Brannon Hampton won the three open city council seats. We based that on the formula that adds all of the votes cast, divides that number by the number of seats to be filled, and then divides that by two and rounds to the highest whole number. That number is the majority of votes needed to win the primary. We came up with 5,372 votes needed to win outright. Pizzillo had 7,768, Campbell had 6,908 and Hampton had 6,094.

But Goodyear reported that a runoff (or general) election was necessary because only Pizzillo and Campbell received a majority.

That’s when we started asking questions and found out the city adds over votes (more votes cast than available seats) and under votes (fewer votes cast than available seats) into the total vote count to determine a majority, and 5,422 under votes changed things big time. Add those, along with the 36 over votes, into the total and suddenly Hampton was lacking by about 188 votes to obtain the majority necessary to win the primary.

We hounded the city clerk for a couple of days and got the same answer over and over again: “It’s complicated” and it’s “written into the city charter.”

Especially considering the city charter reads: “At the primary election, any candidate who shall receive a majority of all the votes cast at such election shall be declared elected to the office for which he is a candidate, and no further election shall be held as to said candidate.”

Votes cast.” We couldn’t get past that verbiage. Even after the city’s public information officer told us Goodyear considers over votes and under votes to be “votes cast.” No other West Valley city considers over and under votes into the formula to determine a majority.

We walked away from those discussions feeling the city was miscalculating election results, and now it appears that may be exactly what’s been happening.

Former candidate Sara Gilligan (who faced off with Hampton in a very expensive May 16 runoff election) spoke at the June 5 council meeting. She expressed her desire to move the city’s election to the fall of even-numbered years and to do away with adding over and under votes into the total, despite the fact that it gave her a second chance. Mayor Georgia Lord told Gilligan city staff would contact her to explain the process the city went through to determine its election cycle but didn’t address over and under votes. Councilman Bill Stipp then asked City Manager Brian Dalke if staff could look into why the city counts over and under votes. Dalke replied that it’s being looked into. We asked Dalke ourselves for a progress report and were told, “The city will be evaluating but we have not finalized a process at this time. We plan to complete the evaluation within the next 12 months, well before the next city election (scheduled for spring 2019).”

Twelve months? Read the city charter. Read Arizona Revised Statutes 9-821.01. Twelve seconds is more like it. Over and under votes shouldn’t count! Who does that? Goodyear.

So we decided to look back through past elections and discovered some rather startling finds.

Since 2003, three runoff elections have been conducted that would not have been necessary had over and under votes not been counted. Bill Stipp would have won outright in 2011, Sharolyn Hohman in 2013 and Hampton last March. The May 16 runoff election cost Goodyear residents an extra $90,000. That’s a lot of potholes that could have been filled.

But even more startling were the 2003 and 2005 elections that appear to have been miscalculated in another way altogether. For those elections, the city divided the number of ballots cast by two and added one to get the majority needed to win the primary. Ballots and votes are two very different things. Both elections had three open council seats, meaning each ballot could have had up to three votes.

We reached out to Goodyear’s city clerk and PIO Monday morning asking why the votes were tallied that way. We got a reply acknowledging the question and promising to get back to us, but as of printing, we hadn’t received an answer.

We hope it doesn’t take 12 months.

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