Mayoral runoff prompts questions

Published 12:53 am Sunday, November 15, 2015

Voters aren’t happy. The candidates wish it wouldn’t happen this way. And the board of elections says it is less than thrilled.

But voting absentee via mail isn’t going to happen in the runoff election for Ironton mayor’s race.

The ballots that will determine if city benefits specialist Katrina Keith or former mayor and current councilman Robert Cleary will lead Ironton for the next four years won’t be at the board office until Monday.

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“It is taking a special courier for us to get the ballots,” Mark McCown, board of elections member, said.

On Saturday Dayton Legal Blank printed approximately 3,900 ballots that will be distributed at only two polling places. The BOE could print them in the office but McCown said that would be impractical.

“It would be double the cost to print in-house,” McCown said. “We have two little printers here to print. It would take several thousand dollars and take some time.”

The snag comes down to timing and that doesn’t work out to let every registered Ironton voter to cast absentee. According to the charter, the mayor must get 40 percent of the vote. If not, there is a runoff, which must be two weeks after the general election. But ballots can’t be printed until the results are certified by the BOE. That can’t happened until at least 11 days after the election.

Keith was the top voter getter missing the requisite 40 percent by less than 4 percent pulling in 1,145 votes; coming second was Cleary at 730.

Until the board certifies who are the top two winners, the ballots can’t be printed. With only a day between receipt of the ballots and the election, absentees aren’t possible, the board says.

However, there were three exceptions in this election for absentees voters.

If nursing home residents filled out an application for a ballot and it was returned by noon Saturday, two staffers from the BOE — a Republican and Democrat — will go out to the nursing homes to vote the ballots.

“It has to be requested,” McCown said. “Some candidates have been taking them to the nursing homes.”

The second exception is for those categorized as Uniformed and Overseas Citizens, who can have their ballots faxed. Just as with the nursing home residents, applications for those ballots had to be in by noon Saturday.

The third category is if a voter is hospitalized with an emergency or has a minor child with a medical emergency. Then a family member can come into the board office on election day, no later than 3 p.m., and get an application and ballot.

The ballot must be voted before the close of polls.

Tuesday’s election is not the first runoff for Ironton mayor. The first election after the charter was adopted switching the city’s government from manager to mayor was also a runoff.

That was in November 1980 when nine candidates wanted to be the city’s first elected leader. Then, as now, the top two vote getters did not get 40 percent. However, Walter Kesterson, city auditor, pulled only 23.9 percent to Ironton businessman William Sheridan’s 22.3 percent.

That night it was a horse race with Sheridan pulling ahead for the first 10 precincts but a last-minute sprint put Kesterson over the top with a 109-vote lead.

Two weeks later on Nov. 18, that margin went up by only 38 votes, but it was enough to switch victors. Sheridan became Ironton’s first mayor.

In that election 5,025 of the city’s 8,200 registered voters participated. Seven hundred of those were absentee voters. Today there are 7,528 registered voters.

But that was a different time, according to McCown.

“The laws have changed from then,” he said. “That is my understanding from people who were involved in the election.”

What hasn’t changed is that 1980 board of elections and 2015 board want the city charter changed.

Bob Griffith, who was on the BOE in 1980, publicly stated the night of the runoff that he wanted an amendment to the charter delaying the date of the runoff.

Likewise so does the current board that formally offered to Ironton city solicitors, Mack Anderson and Robert Anderson, to draft proposals to make that change.

“We are frustrated and angered that we are not permitted by law to allow everybody to vote absentee,” McCown said. “It is the problem with the timing in Ironton’s charter and how it conflicts with state law. We reiterate the (earlier) board’s comment that Ironton needs to revamps its charter.”