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Elections system failed candidate

An unfortunate set of events that should have been preventable has resulted in an Albany City Commission candidate being tossed off the ballot.

Cheryl Calhoun went to the elections office to qualify to run for the Ward I seat on the City Commission, which would have placed her in competition with Commissioner Jon Howard.

Once her information was keyed into the system, Calhoun says, she was told she was ineligible to run for the Ward I post because her residence in the 1500 block of Georgia Avenue placed her in the city’s Ward II. She and her husband questioned whether they resided in Ward II, but were assured that they did.

Calhoun still had an opportunity to run for the commission, even though this is not the normal year that Ward II is on the municipal ballots. Dorothy Hubbard had to vacate her seat as Ward II’s commissioner when she opted to run for mayor. That meant an abbreviated qualification period would be held for candidates who wanted to finish out Hubbard’s term.

When all the qualifying periods were over, Howard had no opposition in his bid to represent Ward I for four more years. Calhoun qualified to run in Ward II, as did Ivey Hines and Melissa Strother. The Ward II race was placed on the ballot, but since Ward I had only one candidate, voters won’t have to decide that race.

Then a problem cropped up when Calhoun’s residency was challenged. A hearing before the Elections Board on Wednesday determined that the Calhouns — indeed, about 100 voters who had been told they were in Ward II — are residents of Ward I after all.

With the election two weeks away, the Elections Board had no real choice except to disqualify Calhoun from the race. That is understandable since the board has to apply state and local election laws as they are written. Unlike the U.S. House where you don’t have to reside in the congressional district you represent, city commissioners must reside in the wards they represent. Meanwhile, Ward I qualifying is closed and she cannot get on the ballot for that seat.

What she is left with is an odd case in which she did the right things, asked the right questions, but was failed miserably by the system. Any computerized system is subject to glitches, but this is one that we would expect government officials to ensure doesn’t happen again.

Adding insult to injury, the Elections Board says that state law prohibits the returning of the $450 qualification fee she paid in good faith. And with two weeks to go, we would anticipate that she has spent some funds on campaign signs and materials as well.

There doesn’t appear to be a way outside of an intervention by the courts for Calhoun to get on a city ballot for this election, but kicking her off the ballot for a mistake the government made while also keeping her qualification fee is patently unfair.

City Attorney Nathan Davis says he will recommend that the Albany City Commission return the $450 to Calhoun. Commissioners should accept that recommendation. Calhoun has already been denied her right to run for elected office in this election. She shouldn’t be “fined” for the government’s mistake on top of it.