Mesquite tackles confusion on election

For Mesquite City Councilman Dave Bennett, the outcome of the June 5 municipal election seems like a foregone conclusion: His name will appear on the ballot and he will win, regardless of how many votes he receives.

That was the compromise reached this week amid confusion over the proper way to settle primary election races in which voters are asked to mark more than one name on their ballots.

Bennett received votes on nearly 60 percent of the ballots cast in his race, prompting his colleagues on the Mesquite City Council on Tuesday to declare him the outright winner in a six-man contest for two available seats on the council.

That decision leaves the second- and third-place finishers in the April 3 primary, W. G. "Geno" Withelder and Randy J. Ence, to square off in the general election for the remaining seat.

But fourth-place finisher Scott Fisher hopes to spoil that plan by suing the city over its interpretation of election law, which has left him on the outside looking in. Fisher said he has hired a lawyer and expects to file his court challenge within the next day or two.

"At this point, we need to move forward as quickly as possible," he said. "This is costing me valuable campaigning time."

Fisher declined to discuss the specifics of the argument he plans to make in court, but it probably will involve differences in the election rules outlined in state law and in Mesquite city code.

Confusion over those rules is what prompted election officials initially to announce that Bennett, Withelder, Ence and Fisher would advance to a June 5 runoff for the two council seats. That outcome was based on the total votes cast, not the total number of ballots, and did not account for the fact that voters were asked to mark two of the six candidates.

But even though Bennett since has been declared a winner, his name still will appear on the general election ballot because state law and city ordinance seem to require that, Mesquite City Clerk Carol Woods said.

"Probably after this election, the whole ordinance will be looked at," Woods said. "It’s confusing to the general public. They know he (Bennett) is elected, but still he’s on the ballot."

Clark County registrar of voters Larry Lomax said Bennett’s name will appear on the ballot as if he is running unopposed. Mesquite voters will be given the choice between Withelder and Ence elsewhere on the ballot, Lomax said.

Confusion also momentarily clouded the election results in Boulder City, where city and county election officials initially announced that the top four finishers would advance to the general election after a 10-person primary for two City Council seats.

That all changed the day after the primary, when top vote-getter Linda Strickland was declared the outright winner for one of the seats because her name had been marked on more than half of the ballots cast.

In the resulting shuffle, fourth-place finisher Kathey Ditzler was bounced off the general election ballot altogether, leaving second- and third-place finishers Karla Burton and Travis Chandler to fight over the remaining seat.

Lomax called it "bad timing" that problems surfaced in both Boulder City and Mesquite in the same election. "The law just doesn’t seem to clearly address this," he said. "I can’t give them (city officials) any good guidance here."

Bennett said he doesn’t blame Fisher for taking the city to court. "I don’t know that I would do what he’s doing, but I understand why he’s doing it. He either does that or he’s completely out."

Until the legal challenge has been settled, Bennett said he isn’t taking his first-place finish for granted.

"For now, I’m not going to take any of my signs down," he said. "I’m not going to actively campaign, but I may run a few ads until I find out what’s going to happen in court."

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