Aberdeen Board of Elections members, from left, Angela Johnson, Gina Bantum and Mark Schlottman review an untimely absentee ballot, which they rejected, during a special meeting Wednesday. The trio says it wants the mayor and city council to authorize a special election to break a stalemate over the seating of a fourth council member.
Aberdeen Board of Elections members, from left, Angela Johnson, Gina Bantum and Mark Schlottman review an untimely absentee ballot, which they rejected, during a special meeting Wednesday. The trio says it wants the mayor and city council to authorize a special election to break a stalemate over the seating of a fourth council member. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

The Aberdeen Board of Elections wants the city's new mayor and city council to hold a special election "in a timely manner" for the contested fourth council seat.

During a special meeting at City Hall Wednesday afternoon, the board criticized as unfair to voters City Attorney Fred Sussman's ruling that the council seat, for which two candidates received identical votes in the Nov. 3 city election, must be treated as a vacancy.

Advertisement

"That is part of our mission, is to ensure fair elections," board chair Gina Bantum said.

Bantum, along with the other two board members, Mark Schlottman and Angela Johnson, said they will write a formal request to the mayor and council by Friday, asking them to respond by the end of Monday.

The board also disqualified one absentee ballot at the Wednesday meeting, ruling that it was received too late.

Aberdeen's recent election was held to fill the mayor's off and all four seats on the city council. Two council candidates, Sean DeBonis and Stephen Smith, finished in the tie for the fourth seat, each with 655 votes. The elections board recounted the votes on Nov. 6, but the tie remained.

City Manager Doug Miller called the tie unprecedented, and Sussman recommended treating the fourth seat as vacant, requiring new mayor Patrick McGrady, who was sworn in Nov. 9 along with the three council members who were elected, to nominate the fourth council member, subject to approval of the remaining council members.

Bantum, Schlottman and Johnson said Wednesday that suggestion disenfranchises both voters and candidates.

"I think to do anything other than to have another election for the two individuals that tied, Mr. DeBonis and Mr. Smith, anything else would be less than fair to the citizens of Aberdeen," Schlottman said. "It's a lot of work to put on a campaign, and people came out and voted, and the citizens should have the final say."

In his opinion, Sussman said the tie means the voters failed to elect a fourth council member, but Bantum disagreed.

"I feel the city failed to supply what the voters wanted, which is, a [theoretical] fifth seat on the council," she said. In Aberdeen, the mayor has a vote on the council.

Bantum said the city charter says a special election would not have to follow the rules of the general election, and she suggested it be done similar to an absentee ballot, which would also cost much less than putting on a whole new election.

"We can make this a continuation of [the election], and it was even suggested we do something like a flier – 'here's Candidate 1, here's Candidate 2' – not a flier, but a fold[ed ballot], with an enclosed, addressed envelope," Bantum said.

"I think that is the best use of resources we have, and it can be done in a timely manner," she said.

Miller, meanwhile, had said earlier that a special election "is not provided for in the charter," and he reiterated that position Thursday morning, saying that even if that makes sense from a democratic point of view, it is not a good idea for the city.

"It's highly important for legal reasons, [such] if we were to borrow money, that we can prove the council members were properly seated," he said.

Bantum showed a reporter an email she sent to McGrady Sunday urging the special election, but she said she had not gotten a response.

City Clerk Monica Correll, who was at the meeting Wednesday, agreed to draft a formal letter for the board to approve, requesting the special election.

Advertisement

Reached by phone after Wednesday's meeting, McGrady said he wants to review the board's request before making a comment.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement