Town trying to break tie vote

New Windsor council gets legal advice on filling vacancy

`The core of democracy'

May 20, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

After hearing from lawyers and election law specialists yesterday, New Windsor Town Council was working to resolve a tie in a municipal election last week that left a council seat in limbo.

Incumbent Paul G. Garver and challenger Samuel Pierce got the same number of votes in the race for one of the open council seats.

The council was deciding whether to hold a run-off election, or to declare the seat vacant and have the sitting council choose someone for the seat.

The meeting, which began at 9 p.m., was still under way late last night.

Four attorneys, including municipal law expert Neal M. Janey, independently reached the same conclusion: State law and case laws say that when a tie occurs, the post is vacant. The town code says the Town Council selects candidates to fill a vacancy.

But an attorney for Pierce argued that the state constitution provides for a runoff election in case of a tie.

New Windsor officials were thrown for a loop after the May 11 election produced a tie for the first time in town history.

Volunteers counted by hand the 320 paper ballots, and then counted them again. The results were the same: Garver and Pierce each had 178 votes, tying for third place.

Three council seats were open.

The first- and second-place candidates were incumbents Ronnie Blacksten and Terry Petry, who received 230 and 182 votes respectively.

The mayor and council heard from town attorney Marker J. Lovell, assistant town attorney Michelle Ostrander and other lawyers yesterday evening.

"We're dealing with the core of democracy now," said Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., who called in additional legal advice. Gullo also is a lawyer.

A special election would require the town to open its voting precinct, hire an election judge and advertise the date of the runoff.

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

Before the meeting, Gullo said the council would hear from lawyers and choose the course dictated by law. The town code has no provision for a tie, so lawyers were expected to base their advice on state law and precedent.

If New Windsor was to have a tie, it might as well have been this year, when issues didn't separate the candidates.

All were for the revitalization of Main Street, and for sewer and water improvements in the town of 1,200 residents.

Sun staff writers Mary Gail Hare and Brenda J. Buote contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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