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Ward II election has many losers

The results are finally in on the Albany City Commission Ward II race from last November. The results: A botched mess.

In his ruling last week, Superior Court Judge Joe Bishop ruled that Melissa Strother's appeal of the Nov. 8, 2011 special election that resulted in Ivey Hines being seated on the City Commission as representative of Ward II had to be tossed out because the case was not filed correctly in the naming of the defendants.

But the judge also found that if an appeals court were to reverse his decision, that the case had to be dismissed; there were enough irregularities in the election to justify the decertification of the results and the calling of a runoff election between Hines and Strother.

The result is that Hines retains his seat unless Strother appeals the dismissal and wins the appeal.

It is a most unsatisfying result to a special election that was botched from the beginning.

To briefly recap, in addition to Hines and Strother, Cheryl Calhoun was a candidate for the Ward II commission seat. She had intended to qualify to run in Ward I but was told by election officials that she resided in Ward II and would have to run in that ward. In late October -- well into the early voting period and days before the Nov. 8 election -- Calhoun's residency was challenged and the Dougherty Elections Board determined she did, in fact, live in Ward I and would have to be disqualified from the Ward II race. In addition, state law forbade the board from refunding the qualification fee to Calhoun, even though election officials were at fault. City Manager James Taylor stepped in and refunded the fee on behalf of the city.

Then, Bishop found, elections officials failed in their duty to properly inform voters that Calhoun was disqualified from the race and that a vote for her would result in that vote being voided. Because of that second major failure on the part of election officials, the judge said, votes for Calhoun had to be considered irregular votes. Since there were enough of those irregular votes to throw the results in doubt, there should have been a runoff election conducted between Hines and Strother.

"The evidence presented at the hearing confirms Mrs. Calhoun's disqualification was an afterthought or a matter of indifference for Ms. (Dougherty Elections Supervisor Ginger) Nickerson and the Board of Elections," Bishop wrote.

Indeed, that should be a concern for county residents. Because of the way this special election was conducted:

-- Calhoun was not only tossed out of the race, but her desire to run for the City Commission has been delayed at least four years;

-- Strother has been denied the opportunity to advance to a runoff election;

-- More than 200 voters were disenfranchised in the Ward II election, their voices silenced in the selection of their representative to the City Commission;

-- Hines will represent a ward with a number of constituents who now feel they have a valid reason to question the legitimacy of his selection.

None of this leads to confidence in government. The Elections Board now has to do its job of supervising elections. It has to take immediate steps to ensure this series of mistakes doesn't happen again and find a way to assure voters that when they go to the trouble to participate in elections, their ballots will count.

In this election, too many people lost.