Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Fourth Name From The Goblet Of Fire

The legal woes of school board member Jeff McGinness were one of many subcurrents in the recent election. With the votes now counted, at least one community member wants to draw a fourth name from the Goblet of Fire.

Carol DeProsse wrote a letter to the Press-Citizen published yesterday calling for 1) the resignation of McGinness and 2) "the appointment of the fourth highest vote getter in the recent election to his seat."

That would be Phil Hemingway, who fell just short for the second straight election. She doesn't mention it in the letter, but it's well know DeProsse publicly backed Hemingway (the arch-liberal has made a habit of supporting registered Republicans lately) and the rest of the unsuccessful Save Hoover faction. It's also well known that McGinness was one of the votes to close Hoover.

The argument that the next-out finisher should be appointed to any vacancy is just one more facet of how a different electoral system woulda coulda changed the outcome here.Lawyers say not to argue hypotheticals but I never went to law school so I'm dumb enough to do just that.

Hemingway was a lot of people's first choice, true. His watchdog persona and adamant support for Hoover earned him the top finish in two precincts. But he was also a lot of people's LAST choice for his stubbornness, uncooperativeness, and diatribes so long that the Board (wrongly) changed the rules largely to shut him up. The Board of Supervisors knows what it's like to have a member whose only job is to vote No. And the party affiliation thing was also a factor for some folks. A ranked choice election would have more accurately reflected the polarized opinions about Hemingway.

If this had been a vote for four election, rather than a vote for three, it's not necessarily true that the fourth place finisher would have gotten those additional votes. When it WAS a vote for four, in 2011, Hemingway was fifth. The strategies would have changed. Different candidates might have filed. The West High constituency could have more enthusiastically backed their third choice, Sara Barron, with less fear of pushing their top two choices, winners Tuyet Dorau and Chris Lynch, out of the money.

Here's another system: at Democratic Party conventions, if you're electing more than one person on a ballot, delegates are required to use all their votes, or none of the votes count. If three are getting elected, you have to pick three. Would have DEFINITELY changed the numbers out of Coralville if people had been forced to put their money where their mouth was on that third choice vote for Barron..

Before the revenue purpose statement election in February, there was a little buzz about going to a districting system. There's different kinds: candidates merely have to live in a school BOARD district and the entire SCHOOL district votes, or only voters in the school BOARD district vote. It's hard to say how that would have shook out for Hemingway. If the entire SCHOOL district votes, he still wouldn't have gotten those votes from the west. If only an east side school BOARD district were voting, you'd still see that Hoover vs. City High factional fight.

Enough with the what if scenarios. Here's what current law says would happen. The school board would make an appointment that would last until the next scheduled election.

That's the next scheduled SCHOOL election. One archaic facet of Iowa law: school elections can never be combined with any other kinds of elections for any reason. That's one of the reasons we got stuck having three separate special elections in the first four months of the year, and it's something the legislature needs to change. In a computerized era there's no reason election workers would be unable to juggle the different types of ballots voters would need in, say, a combined school and city election.

So an appointment would last until September 2015, at which time the McGinness term would expire anyway. The last appointment was in the summer of 2011 when Michael Cooper left town for a new job. Former board member Jan Leff was appointed with the pretty open acknowledgement that it was just as a place holder for four meetings. There was a separate election on the 2011 ballot for a two year term. Karla Cook won that in a landslide, only to lose Tuesday.

(That's another little law tweak: why a separate election for short terms? How about this: run all seats together and the winner with the least votes gets the short term.)

Unlike all other offices, for school offices there is no provision for a petition for a special election. The appointment simply stands until the next election. It looks to me like there's also not an active option for the school board to go directly to an election. Only inaction or a deadlock allows a special election.

So an appointment it would be. And given the current polarization, Nile Kinnick himself could be risen from the grave and appointed to the school board, and the first thing people would ask is: Coralville or east side?

As the next-out vote getter Phil Hemingway has a decent, if imperfect, case. But it's also clear that the present board would almost certainly not appoint him. It's also hard to appoint any of the other unsuccessful candidates when Hemingway got more votes.

This is an awful lot of speculation over a vacancy that may never happen. But it's the kind of thing people are gaming out right now, and it's starting to feel like the 2013 school election isn't quite over.

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