published Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Chattanooga Councilman Peter Murphy wants District 9 runoff


by Cliff Hightower
Former City Councilman Peter Murphy holds a news conference announcing his challenge of the ruling over the District 9 City Council race on Monday. The Hamilton County Election Commission ruled last week that he had lost the March 5 city election to Yusuf Hakeem.
Former City Councilman Peter Murphy holds a news conference announcing his challenge of the ruling over the District 9 City Council race on Monday. The Hamilton County Election Commission ruled last week that he had lost the March 5 city election to Yusuf Hakeem.
Photo by Jay Bailey.
Murphy letter
Murphy letter

Whether there's a runoff election in City Council District 9 could hang on a technicality.

"The official result is that no one got 50 percent of the vote or greater," Councilman Peter Murphy said during a news conference Monday.

At issue is which Hamilton County Election Commission action is definitive: Its certification of the March 5 results or its vote to declare Yusuf Hakeem the winner after throwing out two write-in votes.

Murphy said the commission vote to certify the election means a runoff is required. Murphy received 1,024 votes and Hakeem got 1,030 votes, a margin too narrow to declare Hakeem the winner, he said.

"They are legally required to hold a runoff," he said.

Hamilton County Election Chairman Mike Walden dismissed Murphy's assertions, stating that vote totals reflected in the certified results are the result of a technical issue with election software.

"There's no way you can go in and change what is recorded or reported," he said.

The commission voted 3-1 last week to throw out two write-in votes that had no signatures and only check marks. The commission vote takes precedence over what is reported on the official results, Walden said.

Murphy sent a letter to the election commission requesting that a runoff be held on April 9. He asked that the commission notify him by 5 p.m. today whether his request will be granted. If not, he states in the letter, he will consider legal action.

Walden did not leave much room for debate.

"We made our decision, and we won't be addressing it again," he said.

Murphy said what the election commission decided about the write-in votes is irrelevant. In the end, panel members certified all ballots.

"There is only one result that matters," he said.

Conflict over the outcome of the District 9 race emerged immediately after the race, when vote tallies showed neither Murphy nor Hakeem received the 50-percent-plus-one of the votes cast as required by the city charter.

Hakeem took 49.98 percent of the vote, while Murphy had 49.68 percent of the vote.

Seven write-in votes were called into question. When the commission voted to throw out the two write-in votes, Hakeem won 50.024 percent of the vote, making him the winner of the election.

Moments after that vote, the commission certified the results with the two write-in ballots included.

Murphy said the runoff election should be held at the same time as the District 4 runoff between Councilman Jack Benson and candidate Larry Grohn.

Election commission staff said earlier Monday the cost of holding a second district runoff would be around $8,000 to $10,000.

Hakeem said his campaign is ready for any circumstance.

"We're prepared for it if comes to going to the court or if there's a runoff election," he said.

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