Politics & Government

Winner of Morro Bay's second City Council seat still unclear

Morro Bay City Council member John Headding has announced his intent to run for mayor in the November 2018.
Morro Bay City Council member John Headding has announced his intent to run for mayor in the November 2018. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

All the votes in Morro Bay’s June 3 City Council election have been counted and processed — but the race for the second open seat remains up in the air.

Depending on the decision of Morro Bay’s interim city attorney Joseph Pannone, candidate John Headding could be declared the winner over incumbent Nancy Johnson.

The question for the city lies in how to interpret 123 ballots cast by Morro Bay residents that left the voting choices for the City Council candidates blank, said Tommy Gong, the county’s assistant clerk-recorder.

In all, 58 percent of registered Morro Bay voters cast ballots totaling 3,952 votes, including the 123 ballots lacking council choices.

Top council candidate Matt Makowetski has already secured his seat with a 60.1 percent majority vote in the contest, which had three candidates vying for two seats.

The city of Morro Bay doesn’t specify language in its election procedure regarding how to interpret those blank votes, and Pannone’s firm is conducting legal research to determine whether to count them or not.

If those votes are counted against the candidates, Headding would fall just short of the 50 percent plus one vote majority he needs to bypass a runoff with Johnson in the November election. Headding’s 1,940 votes would leave him with 49.09 percent of the tally in that scenario.

But if the votes aren’t recognized, and subtracted from the total, Headding would achieve a 50.67 percent of the vote to secure his seat without a November runoff.

“If you factor that in and subtract from the ballots cast, then he’d have the majority,” Gong said. “The city needs to determine ultimately who the victors are.”

Gong said the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office finished counting the votes on Wednesday, but they still need certification.

Morro Bay City Clerk Jamie Boucher said Pannone doesn’t have a set timeline on making a determination, which will require researching case law and reviewing how other cities handled the same issue.

Morro Bay is unusual in that the city holds two elections to fill mayoral and council seats, if necessary, while most cities only coordinate one election.

The City Council will discuss removing the June election from its election process at its June 24 meeting.

If the council decides two elections aren’t necessary, the issue could appear on the November ballot for voters to decide.

Irons said he believes the current setup of two elections is disruptive to city business and creates a lengthy lame duck period for outgoing council members, which can be confusing to residents. Irons also said the Morro Bay election process is too expensive.

“It’s costly to the city,” Irons said. “It also has a cost to the residents. If this isn’t decided, John (Headding) and Nancy (Johnson) already have raised funds for their June campaigns and they’d have to go back and ask for more money for the November election. I don’t think our local community can afford that.”

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