'Race' for Gold Hill council seat ends in 4-4 tie

GOLD HILL — With roughly 5 percent voter turnout in Tuesday's election, the city faces both a decision between two candidates, tied with four votes each, and a bill of between $700 and $1,000 for a special election required by city charter.

For some city officials, it was a case of déjà vu.

Often at election time, frequent vacancies have been difficult to fill with a small voter pool in the town of a little more than 1,000 residents. (Correction: See below.)

Tuesday, some 30 voters cast their ballots for 14 different candidates for a seat on the City Council. Each received between one and four votes. Four of the 30 votes were not counted because the ballot envelope wasn't signed or no candidate was indicated.

The top two vote-getters, residents Michael Rossman and Christina Stanley, each received four votes.

City officials on Wednesday were unclear how they would resolve the tie and were equally uncertain why the city's elections have such poor participation.

Write-in elections last year, in May and November, yielded a small voter turnout and candidates who declined their awarded positions.

This year, however, City Councilwoman Christine Alford said, of the 14 write-in candidates, Rossman and Stanley were the only two who had agreed to run via write-in for the council seat.

Stanley, who did not immediately return calls on Wednesday, has been a budget committee member for the city off and on for some two decades.

Rossman, for whom no phone number was available, moved to town last summer.

Alford said nine ballots were rushed to the Jackson County Elections Department in Medford from Gold Hill right at the deadline but could not be counted.

"It was a whole car full of ballots for Christina Stanley," Alford said. "She's been in town a long time and she said she had signs all over town."

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said late ballots could not be accepted under election laws.

"(An elections employee) went down and closed the box at 8 p.m. and brought the boxes up. He went to lock the building at about 8:03 or 8:04 p.m. and someone ran up and handed him more ballots but he told them they could not be counted," Walker said.

"The same thing happened during a big November race last year," she said. "The bottom line is people have to know that if it's 8 o'clock and 10 minutes or 8 o'clock and 15 seconds, we can't accept them late."

Walker estimated the special election could cost $700 at $1 or more per vote, but could cost more because the Gold Hill seat was the only item on the ballot.

Walker added, "The May election was $113,000 with 113,000 voters so its around $1 per voter. We'll have cost estimates in the next week or two." (Correction: See below.)

Mayor Bucky Steffen and Council President Sam Blake did not immediately return calls on Wednesday about plans for resolving the tie vote.

Alford said she and a number of residents she spoke with hadn't realized ballots were already due.

"When we called people at the last minute trying to get them to vote, people didn't realize it was the deadline," Alford said.

"At this point, the council doesn't have any authority," she said. "We could choose to appoint based on qualifications or the seat can stay empty. The best solution would be for one of them to step down and allow the other one to have the seat."

Gold Hill Pharmacy owner Alex Frum, who does not live inside the city limits, said the town had enough politics that he would think residents should be interested in serving at City Hall.

"Actually there's been a lot of controversy in city stuff so why nobody is running I don't know," Frum said. "I did have one customer in the pharmacy say she didn't know who was interested in running so she didn't know how to vote. There was only one seat on the whole ballot and no candidate was listed. Doesn't seem like there was much point in doing that."

Alford said the council would likely discuss the issue at its next meeting, set for 6 p.m. Oct. 2.

(Correction: Mathematical errors have been corrected in this story.)

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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