In search of the missing votes

Well, it didn’t take 12 months. It only took about two days to get our answer from Goodyear. And when you factor in the city’s wonky election math, it makes sense … kind of.

Last week, we wrote an editorial about the way the city calculates election results, namely counting over and under votes as votes cast, and how its methodology has resulted in some costly, unnecessary runoff elections. In the same editorial, we wrote about the city’s formula for calculating election results. The city’s 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.” Arizona Revised Statutes 9-821.01 reads: “Notwithstanding any other law or any charter provision, a city or town may by ordinance provide that at the primary election any candidate for the office of mayor or city council who receives a majority of all votes cast at that election for that office shall be declared elected to the office for which the person is a candidate, effective as of the date of the general election, and no further election shall be held as to such candidate.”

But in more than one of Goodyear’s past elections, the city used the formula of “50 percent of the ballots cast plus one ballot.”

Ballots, not votes.

That didn’t make sense to us. Aside from deviating from charter and state statute language, that formula couldn’t possibly work for a multiple-seat race. So we asked the city about it, but didn’t get the answer till a couple of hours after we went to press.

Quick recap, here’s how a majority is calculated (straight from A.R.S. 9-821.01):

The majority of votes cast is determined by:

1. Calculating the total number of actual votes cast for all candidates for an office whose names were lawfully on the ballot for that office.

2. Dividing the sum reached pursuant to paragraph 1 of this subsection by the number of seats to be filled for the office.

3. Dividing the number reached pursuant to paragraph 2 of this subsection by two and rounding that number to the highest whole number.

The city’s answer was that it simply multiplies the number of ballots cast by the number of open seats to arrive at the total number of votes cast. Plug that number into the A.R.S. formula to determine a majority and voila, it’s the same as 50 percent of the ballots cast plus one.

Never mind that not all voters cast a vote for every open seat while others cast extra votes. If three seats are on the ballot, every ballot counts as three votes in Goodyear.

It all comes back to those pesky over and under votes … kind of … maybe.

Say five people are running for three seats in Goodyear and you only vote for one. Your ballot counts as three votes cast: one vote for a candidate and two under votes.

This is where it gets tricky and we’re still waiting to hear back from Goodyear on this one.

Say those same five people are running for three seats in Goodyear and you vote for all five of them. You have cast two over votes. We laid out this exact scenario to the city and it confirmed our math — two over votes. But if every ballot represented three votes, how was the third vote counted?

The city clerk was right when she said it’s complicated.

We’re just thankful that Goodyear is our only West Valley city that uses such wonky math when calculating election results, and we have our fingers crossed that that will change now that sitting council members are asking the same questions we are.

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