Unopposed Elections May Provoke Problems

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Question: What’s worse than spending $35,000 on an election without any contested seats?

Answer: Doing it twice.

That’s the fear behind Payson Town Clerk Silvia Smith’s appeal to voters to fill out and return their ballots for the town council elections — even though no one filed to run against the incumbents in Payson.

The same concerns hold true in Star Valley, where no one filed to oppose Mayor Bill Rappaport or council members George Binney, Gary Coon or Paty Henderson.

The ballots went out this week for the vote-by-mail town election, with Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, Councilor Michael Hughes, Councilor Richard Croy and Councilor John Wilson all up for re-election.

Sounds simple enough: No opponent, slam dunk.

Not quite.

Candidates must get at least half the valid ballots cast for all offices to win the primary. If they fall even one vote short — they will face another round of voting in the general election.

That will cost the town another $35,000, even though the candidates will still be unopposed.

So, suppose 2,000 people cast a vote for mayor. That means Mayor Evans would need 1,001 votes to win in the primary — and the same goes for any other candidate. So if lots of voters skipped one or more of the council choices, even an unopposed candidate could wind up in a runoff with himself in the general election.

And that would cost the town another $35,000 for another uncontested race.

“To make it even worse, each candidate still has to have 50 plus 1 percent of the votes cast to get elected,” said Smith. “If people just say, I’m going to vote for one person and not for all three candidates and each council member doesn’t get the 50 plus 1 percent of the vote, we could still have the election.”

She said vote-by-mail elections have saved the town money and increased turnout, while also reducing the chance of fraud by ensuring that someone checks every signature on the mail-in ballot envelope against the signature on file in the voter rolls.

The mail-in ballot means the town doesn’t have to pay for workers at polling places. Voters can also save the town $1.22 by dropping off their ballot at Town Hall instead of mailing it in.

Smith says she’s also worried about another possible consequence of the first unopposed council race in memory.

Suppose hardly anyone bothers to vote, since all the candidates are virtually guaranteed a win. That will affect how many petition signatures people need to get on the ballot in the next election, noted Smith.

Candidates must gather nominating petition signatures that total 5 to 10 percent of the vote in the last election to get on the ballot.

“If you have like 10 people voting in the last election, you would only need one signature to go on the ballot,” said Smith.

So if you want to save the town $35,000 and keep riffraff off the next ballot, vote promptly — and don’t leave any boxes blank.

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