There’s trouble brewing in the state’s smallest incorporated village.
Just 96 residents were eligible to vote in the most recent election in Ames, held a week ago today, but the results sparked local controversy. One jilted candidate is even filing an official complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office claiming illegal actions were taken to skew the results and demanding another election.
“At the very least I want a revote,” said Donald Krutz, who lost the mayoral race to Trustee Richard Wilday 26-33. “At best I want charges brought against [Mayor] Martin Wilcox.”
The election ran into problems right away. As 59 village residents came to the polls Tuesday night, the sitting Village Board realized the ballots were flawed. There were no lines for write-in candidates in either the mayoral or the trustee races. Also, Katie Bottger was listed as running against incumbent Michael McMahon and Sandy Malcolm for two trustee spots when she had already become village clerk and dropped out of the race.
The Village Board decided the best thing was to seal the ballots at close of polls, not look at them and just have a whole new vote. But according to Montgomery County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Terrance Smith, votes can’t go uncounted.
“Ballots have to be counted,” he said, “then candidates can file complaints. It doesn’t matter the size of the election. That’s how it works.”
Informed of this, the board counted all 59 of the ballots in the village firehouse Thursday night.
Wilday won a seat as mayor over Krutz by six votes. Incumbent McMahon kept his seat on the Village Board with 36 votes, but Malcolm lost by eight votes to Wilcox, who received 29 write-in votes.
“There wasn’t even a spot to write in,” Krutz said, explaining that Wilcox also served as a poll watcher. “He told people where they could write in a candidate. He was campaigning.”
Before the votes were counted, the Village Board decided if there were no extremely out-of-the-ordinary results, they would just abide by the flawed vote. When all was tallied up few were surprised, so the vote seemed good enough.
Krutz disagreed. He called the Attorney General’s Office requesting the necessary paperwork to get litigation started.
“Wilcox’s actions were illegal,” he said.
Wilcox was confused Monday afternoon. He decided not to run for a fourth term as mayor because no one would run against him. The democratic process, he said, was not taking place.
“But people wanted to list me as a write-in candidate for trustee and I said OK,” he said.
By law, there must be two poll watchers to check that voters are registered and make sure everything is aboveboard. Only one person volunteered, so Wilcox said he would do it too.
“Then people were confused by the ballots,” he said. “They asked where to put the name of the write-in candidate. I said write it anywhere. I’m just trying to do a good thing.”
Krutz maintains Wilcox’s very presence at the poll gave him an advantage in the election.
“They wouldn’t have let me be a poll watcher,” he said.
At this point no one is quite sure how things will proceed. The county Board of Elections said it has nothing to do with Ames. The Attorney General’s Office would not provide an official comment on the proceedings.
McMahon said the current terms are up April 1 and if the village hasn’t heard anything from the Attorney General’s Office by then, Wilday will assume the role of mayor and things will go on as before — with a few changes to future village elections, of course.
While Wilcox isn’t too concerned about possible litigation, he sounded pretty tired Monday.
“So many people were complaining,” he said. “I’ll probably just step down.”
It’s not exactly a high-stakes situation. As mayor, he said he basically just paid some bills, mostly for upkeep on the local fire station and trash pickup.
“The position only pays $1,000 a year,” he said. “You only get $400 as trustee. It doesn’t take a lot of time.”
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