Editorials, Opinion

Hold a special election

Appointing First Ward rep disenfranchises voters

As we reported May 14, councilman-elect Patrick Hathaway will not take his seat representing Morgantown’s First Ward.

Hathaway’s wife accepted a job in Illinois (congratulations to her) days before the April 27 city council election. Hathaway informed the city that he would be unable to fill the seat, should he be elected over write-in challenger Seth Collins. However, Hathaway’s move was not announced to the public prior to votes being cast and, in fact, was not announced until long after he had been declared the race’s winner. Why did council keep it quiet?

That is unacceptable.

We understand that the ballot could not be changed on such short notice, but the voting public had a right to know that one of the two available candidates was no longer eligible to fill the council seat. While it would not have been possible for another write-in candidate to qualify before votes were cast, the people would still have been able to exercise their right to choose by casting a ballot for Collins — or choosing to withhold their vote to fill the First Ward seat.

It’s a dirty trick council played. By keeping Hathaway’s departure quiet, Hathaway was able to win the seat at the time of the election. Now that seat will be considered vacant, and the new city council will have 30 days from the start of the term to appoint someone.

Essentially, council will be able to hand-pick the First Ward council-person. And that steals the power from the people to pick their representatives. That, too, is unacceptable.

Council has the option to run a special election and, ideally, this is what they would do. Another election would allow any interested parties to come forward to be on the ballot — and it upholds the people’s right to participate in the democratic process. If no one showed interest in filling the seat, the special election could be canceled.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely city council will choose to have a special election. Elections cost money. When it comes time to balance the checkbook, council will have to justify the expense of an entire election just to fill one seat. So even though a special election is the ethically correct choice, it probably isn’t the most economical one.

The next best option is to offer the seat to Collins, the write-in candidate. Hathaway may have received almost 600 votes more than Collins, but more than 350 people thought Collins would be a good fit for the job. This is a better alternative than council appointing someone for whom no one voted.

We know we’re essentially talking to a brick wall: Council will do whatever it wants to do. More than likely it will appoint someone. But we hold a slim hope that the new council will choose to rectify the mistakes of the current council — that it will choose to honor the right of Morgantown residents to select their representation rather than choose to disenfranchise Morgantown’s voters.