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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Should we really spend $300,000 to confirm what voters already decided?

Late Allen County Councilman Roy Buskirk hugs City Clerk Lana Keesling after being selected as one of three Republican at-large candidates in the May primary. Buskirk's death from cancer four days before the Nov. 8 general election sparked a lawsuit the judge wants to resolve through an expensive special election. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel.)
Late Allen County Councilman Roy Buskirk hugs City Clerk Lana Keesling after being selected as one of three Republican at-large candidates in the May primary. Buskirk's death from cancer four days before the Nov. 8 general election sparked a lawsuit the judge wants to resolve through an expensive special election. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel.)
Craig Bobay
Craig Bobay
Steve Shine
Steve Shine
Jack Morris
Jack Morris
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, January 13, 2017 11:04 am
Democracy and legal principles may be priceless, but $300,000 isn't exactly chump change. And that's about what it would cost to a stage the pre-ordained special election a judge Friday strongly suggested would be the best solution to a lawsuit sparked by the death of Allen County Councilman Roy Buskirk just four days before the Nov. 8 election. "Both sides say that if the other side prevails, voters will be disenfranchised. It occurs to me that the way we satisfy all concerns is to have a special election so we know the will of the people. I think all of you ought to consider it," Allen Superior Judge Craig Bobay said at the end of a two-hour hearing into a lawsuit arguing that because the Republican Buskirk's death rendered him a non-candidate, Democrat Palermo Galindo should have been declared one of three successful at-large  candidates.

County Republican Chairman Steve Shine, however, said he has no intention of voluntarily participating in a special election and doubts Bobay has the authority to order one. And although Shine's motives may be self-serving, common sense, local political history and the legal arguments made by both sides at Friday's hearing support his position.

Attorneys on both sides agreed that state law is ambiguous about the proper response to the death of a candidate so close to election day, and that the outcome should be as faithful as possible to voters' intent. If so, there's only one logical conclusion — and it doesn't require an expensive special election to know what it is.

There were six candidates seeking three at-large seats on the ballot, three from each party. The incumbent Buskirk finished third among Republicans but despite his well-publicized death still attracted 22,500 votes more than Galindo, the top Democratic candidate. Republican precinct officials later selected Justin Busch to succeed Buskirk, and nobody really believes Galindo or any other Democrat would win a special election. The last Democrat to win county-wide office was Pat Love, who was elected assessor in 2002 by a razor-thin margin over incumbent Republican Mike Ternet, who had been publicly accused of misconduct by one of his own employees and other local assessors.

Patrick Proctor, attorney for Galindo and the Democratic Party, said some people voted for Buskirk not realizing he had died. "The problem is you can't assume they intended their vote to be for (another) Republican. You don't know so you have to discount the vote," he argued. That is especially true, he insisted, now that state now prevents people from casting a party-line vote in races with multiple candidates, such as County Council at-large, meaning a vote for Buskirk wasn't automatically a vote for a GOP successor.

Shine, however, believes Buskirk's margin of victory and Republicans' historic dominance in countywide races makes a special election a foregone conclusion. of a Republican victory. "The expense would be an onerous burden on the county budget," he said. "The law favors the outcome (we had)."

The Election Board came to that same conclusion when it certified Buskirk's victory. More than 30,000 absentee and early votes had already been cast, and attorneys on both sides conceded it would have been impossible to change the candidate list on hundreds of electronic voting machines just days before the election. Throwing the results out now, board attorney Laura Maser told Bobay, would disenfranchise the more than 60,000 people who supported Buskirk.

County Democratic Party Chairman Jack Morris decline to comment on Bobay's suggested special election, but wondered how it would be conducted. Would the candidates be limited to Galindo and Busch, or would all other candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot also be allowed to participate? Director of Elections Beth Dlug said she's not sure.

I don't blame Morris and Shine for defending their parties and legal interpretations. But in the absence of clear statutory guidelines — something that should be addressed in Indianapolis as soon as possible — the clear intent of voters should prevail, and in this case that clearly favored a Republican victory.  A special election, even if the court can compel it, surely would reach the same conclusion, but only after much time, trouble and expense.

A speedy decision by Bobay or even withdrawal of the lawsuit represent the best solution here, and apart from the principles involved it won't matter that much anyway: Will the seven-member County Council, which rarely handles controversial issues or sees a close vote, continue to have six Republican members or "only" five?

Surely $300,000 could be put to better use.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

   

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