CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WRCB-DT) - It took only 2,061 votes to set the stage for an emergency Election Commission meeting and a problem worthy of a political science classroom discussion.
The threshold to win a city election is 50% plus one votes. In the District 9 City Council race, Yusuf Hakeem defeated incumbent Peter Murphy, but did not eclipse the 50% mark. That is the case if 7 write-in votes are counted in the total; Hamilton County does.
The state has advised the write-in votes not be considered or reported unless they were for an approved write-in candidate. There were no approved write-in candidates in the 9th District race.
"My understanding of a write-in is that it is a choice that you make for someone that does not appear on the ballot," said Election Office Programmer Nathan Foster. "If that is the case, then whatever 7 votes were cast are irrelevant to the outcome of the race."
Commissioner Jerry Summers worried that perhaps some voters, distrustful of the scan-type voting machines, may have filled-in the name of one of the candidates, both of whom were in attendance with their attorneys. The ballots were sought out. "Assuming that there aren't 2 of them for Mr. Hakeem or 7 of them for me, then the correct decision is for us to have a run-off election," said Councilman Murphy. "It's what's required by law."
The names written-in on those 7 ballots were not those of the two qualified candidates for the District 9 seat. But, any decision made during the hastily-called Thursday morning meeting would have been in violation of the sunshine law. With proper public notice, they will try again on Wednesday, March 13.
Among the options they will consider: If the write-in ballots are thrown out as suggested by the state, Yusuf Hakeem would seemingly get the 50% plus one mark of total votes (total then being 2,054 with Hakeem receiving 1,030 votes to Murphy's 1,024 votes) and could be declared the winner without a run-off.
Another interesting point: There are 11,724 registered voters in District 9. 2,061 participated in the election.
The run-off date is set for April 9th.
"We are making preparations to move forward with the campaign," said Yusuf Hakeem, "leaving no stones unturned."