After weeks collecting hundreds of petition signatures, organizers in Bakersfield’s Ward One presumed a special election was a sure thing.
“I thought it was a done deal and we would just go to city council on Wednesday where they would set the date,” said Marvin Dean, Ward One resident and organizer.
Dean turned in 2,120 petition signatures to the city clerk the last week of December. He and many other organizers want a special election to fill the Ward One city council seat vacated by former councilman Rudy Salas, who was elected to the California Assembly in November.
But, after the city turned the petition over to the Kern County Elections Office to review, it found the majority of the signatures collected were considered invalid because volunteers filled in the address for the each voter.
"California Elections Code mandates that the voter complete their signature and their place of residence and actually print their name as well," said Bakersfield City Clerk Roberta Gafford. “So that they can be identified, it must be solely done by the voter.”
Gafford says the elections office found only 577 of the 2,120 signatures are valid. Petitioners needed 1,220 in order to have a special election automatically approved. Now, the possibility of an election is up to city council members to decide.
"We wanted to make sure we had the numbers so that it wouldn't be a political decision,” Dean said. “That’s why we worked so hard to meet the mandate required by the city ordinance because people made the threshold by meeting the 1,220 signatures."
Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson says he ran into the same issue while collecting signatures for his campaign some years ago.
"The signatures were there. Though there was a technicality, if it's legal we should go ahead with a special election," Hanson said.
He feels the Ward One seat should be filled by someone of the ward’s choosing. If council members do decide to have an election, it could cost the city around $100,000.
"But, at the end of the day what we have to remember is that there were over 2,000 signatures that were collected,” said Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson, “Democracy has a price, and I think you have to weigh that very heavily as we decide what we're going to do tomorrow night that has to be a considerable factor in our decision.”
The city council also has the option to appoint someone to the position for the remainder of the term until 2014 or appoint someone until they hold an election. The council meets Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall in downtown Bakersfield.