Meeting set to resolve vote tie

Mayor, Town Council will discuss ways to settle election impasse

Both candidates invited

May 19, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare | Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. and the Town Council will meet tonight to decide how to settle a tie between two candidates in last week's council election.

Never before has the town of 1,200 faced such a dilemma, and the town code has no provision to address the situation. The state election code does not regulate municipal elections.

Town election judges twice counted by hand the 320 votes cast in the council election May 11, and were surprised to find that incumbent Paul G. Garver and challenger Samuel Pierce each had 178 votes.

An emergency meeting was scheduled at 8: 45 p.m. today at Town Hall. Both candidates were invited to attend the public meeting.

"This issue affects the operation of the town and we have to deal with it," said Gullo. "This is in the hands of our attorneys and they will give us their opinion. This is complicated, and we have to leave it in the hands of those most qualified."

Gullo, an attorney with a practice in town, said he would not speculate on what solutions the attorneys will offer. Town attorney Marker J. Lovell consulted several experts in election law and will address the council, Gullo said.

According to Republican state Del. Joseph M. Getty, the town has only two possible options: Declare the seat vacant and allow the council to appoint a successor, or hold a run-off.

"The first option is based on case law," said Getty, a Manchester attorney who served three years on committees revising the state's election laws. "The other option is based on the precedent set by the state constitution, which allows the governor to order a new election in cases of a tie."

Getty said the prohibitive cost of a run-off would be the only reason to appoint a successor. A special election would require the town to open its voting precinct, hire an election judge and advertise the date of the run-off.

Drawbacks in solutions

"Every solution has drawbacks," Gullo said. "Scheduling a run-off election would mean setting a new registration period and further prolonging the decision."

No one seems to know why the vote was so close.

All of the candidates were in favor of revitalizing Main Street and improving the town's water and sewer systems.

Incumbents Ronnie Blacksten and Terry Petry were the first and second vote-getters, with 230 and 182 votes respectively, but they cannot be declared winners until the tie is broken.

Coin toss?

Gullo, an officer in the Maryland Municipal League, said other towns have faced similar dilemmas and came up with solutions that include a decisive coin toss.

"Two people want the same seat, and somebody is going to lose," said Gullo. "We must apply due diligence to ensure all aspects of the issue are looked at. This is the essence of the democratic process."

Pub Date: 5/19/99

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