Murphy suing for seat

Murphy suing for seat

March 27th, 2013 by Cliff Hightower in Community Downtown

Peter Murphy is taking his fight to keep his District 9 Chattanooga City Council seat to court, asking a Hamilton County Chancery Court judge to order a runoff.

Murphy is contesting the results of the March 5 city election, which he lost by six votes to Yusuf Hakeem. At issue is which Hamilton County Election Commission action is definitive: Its certification of the March 5 results or its vote to declare Hakeem the winner after throwing out two write-in votes.

Murphy said the commission's vote to certify the election means a runoff is required.

He and three city residents filed papers Thursday to sue the Hamilton County Election Commission and Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan. Murphy claims he "is entitled to be a candidate" in a runoff election, and city residents Jessie Phillips, Lettie McIntire and Olin Ivey assert they live in District 9 and "desire to vote" for him.

Murphy had no comment after the lawsuit was filed. Hakeem could not be reached for comment, but he has said his campaign is ready for a court challenge or a runoff.

Hamilton County Election Commission Attorney Chris Clem said the commission has no problem with Murphy filing the lawsuit.

"The Election Commission has no specific position," he said.

Conflict emerged immediately after the race, when vote tallies showed neither Murphy nor Hakeem received the required 50 percent plus one of the votes cast. Hakeem took 49.98 percent of the vote, Murphy had 49.68 percent and there were seven write-ins.

After certifying the election's results and thus vote totals, the Election Commission voted to throw out two write-in votes that had check marks in place of candidate names. That put Hakeem over the top, with 50.024 percent of the vote.

Murphy's lawsuit argues the Election Commission certified all write-in votes, including the two that were not counted. Clem said an audit and the Election Commission meeting minutes were clear that the two votes did not count, even though they were posted on a computer printout. The Election Commission states that because of its computer software it cannot take the write-in votes out of the documents.

The commission vote takes precedence over what is reported on the official results, said Hamilton County Election Chairman Mike Walden.

Murphy is asking the court to order that a runoff be held Tuesday, April 9, the same day as the District 4 runoff between Jack Benson and Larry Grohn.

"The [Election Commission] staff has an obligation to hold a runoff," he said.

According to Election Commission staff, the cost of holding a second district runoff would be around $8,000-$10,000.