Aberdeen Council finally approves charter change to resolve election ties

Charter amendment is 13 months in the making

More than 13 months after the election for a third City Council seat in Aberdeen ended in a tie, there's a prescribed procedure on the books for dealing with similar situations in the future.

Mayor Patrick McGrady and the four council members voted unanimously Monday night to approve a charter amendment resolution outlining how ties for either mayor or council will be resolved by a runoff election between the candidates who finish with the same number of votes.

There's a 50-day waiting period before the amendment can take effect, giving an opportunity for residents to petition it to a referendum vote, which is considered unlikely.

"It's great," McGrady said following the brief council meeting that was followed by cookies and soda in the lobby of city hall, as he and the council and city staff celebrated Christmas with residents. "It consumed a lot of time, a lot of meetings, a lot of reiterating."

After taking five months to fill the council seat left vacant by the tie in the November 2015 city election, the mayor and council spent another six months working on the charter amendment.

"It satisfies the public's need for a way to prevent a tie in the council member or mayoral election in the future," McGrady said. "Aberdeen has a number of tremendous opportunities and being finished with this permits us to focus on those exciting things."

Since the appointment of Councilman Steven Goodin in April, McGrady's third nominee to the seat that was declared vacant when two candidates – Sean DeBonis and incumbent Steve Smith – tied, the Aberdeen officials have been working on a means to avoid repeat of the last election, where there was nothing in the charter or in city law to guide them in resolving the tie. They also got a not-so-subtle nudge from Annapolis.

The Maryland General Assembly approved a law during its 2016 session earlier in the year requiring municipalities to fill elected offices left vacant by a tie vote within 90 days. The law, which co-sponsor Harford Del. Mary Ann Lisanti said was particularly aimed at the Aberdeen situation, doesn't specify how the tie should be resolved, only that it be done within the 60 days.

With approval of the resolution, the city charter will be amended to allow for a special runoff election to settle a tie among two or more candidates for either the mayor's office or a city council seat.

Only city residents who registered to vote in the "regular election" would be eligible to vote in the runoff, according to the charter change.

If there were a tie in the mayoral election, the incumbent mayor would remain in office "until the mayor's successor qualifies and takes office."

A second runoff election will be held if another tie results from the first runoff. The "newly-elected" city council members would select the winner by majority vote if the candidates are tied after the second runoff.

But, if the council cannot select a winner within 30 days of when the Aberdeen Board of Elections has certified the results of the second runoff, the elections board will select a winner "by a game of chance determined and conducted by the board in public between the tied candidates," according to the final version of the charter amendment.

The mayor and council started discussing an amendment in the spring and consulted with elections officials, their lawyer and other municipalities, before finally reaching a consensus on what they approved Monday.

The next election for the mayor's office and all four council seats will be in November 2019.

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