AMES -- Tuesday’s election to install the entire Ames village government ended with a bundle of sealed ballots impounded at the county Board of Elections office and no clear winners.
“We’ll probably have to do the election again,” said village Trustee Mike McMahon, “but it might end up before a judge.”
As roughly 60 village residents visited the polls Tuesday to vote in the new mayor and two trustees responsible for running the small municipality, Ames officials realized they had a big problem.
“There were some errors on the ballot,” said Katie Bottger, listed on the ballot as a candidate for village trustee, “but they weren’t intentional.”
One of those errors was Bottger’s presence on the ballot. She had initially declared her intention to run, but then two weeks ago Village Clerk Mari Bartholomew stepped down and Bottger was appointed to replace her.
“By that point [Bartholomew] had already printed our 90 ballots,” she said. “It was too late.”
That was actually one of the smaller problems. Bottger was listed as running against two other candidates, incumbent Michael McMahon and Sandy Malcolm, for two open trustee spots. Bottger got her own line on the ballot, while McMahon and Malcolm were grouped together with directions to “choose one.”
The layout basically guaranteed one of the trustee positions to Bottger, the only candidate not actually seeking election.
Outgoing Trustee Richard Wilday ran against Donald Krutz in the mayoral election with both names present and spelled correctly on the ballot, but there was a problem there as well.
“There was a caption telling you to write in any alternative candidates,” Bottger said, “but nowhere to actually write it.”
In a village as small as Ames, write-in candidates have been known to win. Vicki Everleth was elected mayor at one point on the strength of write-in votes, according to Bottger.
“If even one person voted and walked away confused, it’s worth doing it again,” McMahon said, blaming the mistakes on the uncharacteristically competitive election.
“Bartholomew used a very old template,” he said. “It worked fine when there were just two trustee candidates, but three was too much.”
Going forward, officials aren’t quite sure what to do.
“We are not in charge of the Ames election,” said Montgomery County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Terrance Smith. “We got the ballots because no one wanted to deal with them.”
Following the election, the results were sealed to avoid any arguments. McMahon said there will likely be a whole new election sometime in the next few weeks, but it could be handled differently.
Currently, the Board of Elections is in contact with state officials to determine the best course of action. As for future village elections, McMahon said the ruined vote will prompt some changes.
From now on, they plan to use official state-approved ballots rather than the old ones printed by Bartholomew. Ames officials are also considering having a period of time before the vote when candidates can check over the ballots and make sure all is well.
“That’s how the county does it.” McMahon said. “Our system just needs an update.”