John Headding officially won a seat on the Morro Bay City Council in the June 3 primary, the city’s interim city attorney has determined.
The city announced the decision Tuesday by distributing a memo that Joseph W. Pannone, the interim city attorney, wrote to city officials citing the state’s election codes to explain his decision.
The memo resolved a ballot counting issue over whether Headding had secured the required 50 percent-plus-one vote needed to win the seat and avoid a November runoff election.
The issue involved 123 ballots with no candidates marked for City Council, although those voters did cast votes for other offices. If the blank ballots were counted, Headding would have garnered 49.09 percent, and he and incumbent Councilwoman Nancy Johnson – who received 36.66 percent – would have faced off in the Nov. 4 general election. A second contested council seat was won by newcomer Matt Makowetski, with 61 percent of the vote.
Pannone determined that the blank ballots should not be counted because it was unclear what those voters intended. He cited state elections code subsection 15154, which states, "... if for any reason the choice of the voter is impossible to determine, the vote for that office shall not be counted, but the remainder of the ballot, if properly marked, shall be counted."
By not counting the ballots, “Headding's 1,940 votes gives him 50.7 percent of the vote resulting in no November run-off being necessary, and he being declared a winner,” City Clerk Jamie Boucher said.
Headding couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday.
On Sunday, Johnson conceded the election to Headding, saying she wanted the city to avoid the expense of a November runoff election.
The runoff still would have occurred, Boucher said.
“There would have been a run-off in November as candidates are not allowed to withdraw from an election past the primary,” Boucher said. “Granted, there probably wouldn't have been any campaigning, but an election would have occurred.”
Boucher noted that elections code 8810 says the name of a candidate nominated in a primary election must appear on the ballot in the general election unless the candidate dies at least 68 days before the election.
In addition to choosing two newcomers for the city council, Morro Bay voters re-elected Jamie Irons as mayor.
Morro Bay is unusual in that it holds a primary and runoff election to fill its mayoral and council seats, requiring candidates to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to win. Most cities hold just one election, with the top vote-getters winning seats.