PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Six people who are running for three seats for the Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District (PLSD) will not appear on the Nov. 3 ballot this year. They will be write-in candidates through no fault of their own.

Every two years the PLSD holds board elections for board seats open. According to District Manager Dave Smith, Navajo County has handled elections for the district, likely since it was formed. They pay the county to handle each election for them.

“The district could do everything but for many years the county has helped us with the elections. We are in the sewer business, not the election business,” Smith said.

On June 9, Christen C. Haddox, Elections Coordinator for Navajo County Election Services, sent a letter to PLSD with the Call to Election attachment. It stated that petitions must be filed between July 6 and Aug. 5 at 5:00 p.m. at the Navajo County Elections Department at the Navajo County Governmental Complex in Holbrook. The letter asked the district to post it in two to three places in the community which Smith said they did.

Smith said the PLSD board passed a Resolution Calling Board Member Election at their regular meeting on May 13. The resolution outlined the steps to be taken for the election to be held on Nov. 3 and formally requested the Navajo County Elections Department to conduct their board member election in conjunction with the general election on Nov. 3, as required by Arizona Revised Statutes, for elections help by Special Districts. The Call to Election from the county was attached to the resolution as an exhibit.

The county published t he Call to Elections with the July 6 to Aug. 5 dates for candidates in the White Mountain Independent on June 12 and June 16.

John Beeler, one of the candidates who turned in his petition packet on Aug. 5 said Director of Elections Rayleen Richards told him that everything was in order but due to a mistake regarding the date for candidate’s filing he would be a write-in candidate.

Having followed all of the conditions laid out for a person to meet regarding filing, Beeler expected to be on the Nov. 3 ballot and not as a write-in. He set out to collect all the necessary information that was posted or advertised that verified the filing dates which confirmed that he was not late. He located an elections complaint section on the Arizona attorney general’s site and filed a complaint against the Navajo County Elections Department and the Navajo County Attorney, hoping something could be done to rectify the error.

Smith said PLSD received an email from County Elections Coordinator, Haddox on Aug. 18 stating, “I regret to inform you that I have made a mistake concerning your board. This year the filing dates for the November election changed and the calendar I had included the filing dates for last year, not the updated ones for this year. The dates July 6 – August 5 were what I had. The actual dates were June 6 – July 6.”

Haddox also stated that she thought she had communicated the error to PLSD, but due to the primary election rush she later discovered she had not. She apologized for the error and advised Smith that there would be six write-in candidates for the three seats: Patrick Place, Kenny Keith, John Beeler, Donna Shurwin, Maria Donaghy and Gary Atkin.

Smith notified each of the six candidates by letter on Aug. 20 of the county’s error and advised them that they would be write-in candidates.

Atkins and Donaghy said they had received the letter from Smith, but Donaghy stated she had learned of the error from another candidate, Donna Shurwin. Place had not received his letter and was unaware of the issue. Keith had not responded to the Independent at press time. Several of the candidates acknowledged the difficulty they believe exists at being a write-in versus being printed on the ballot, which was Beeler’s concern.

According to Richards, the statute on filing dates was changed in August of 2019.

“We were quite busy this year with the primary and Christen was trying to be ‘Johnny on the spot,’ and get ahead of things during the busy season,” said Richards. “The calendar had not been updated with the new dates and the old ones were sent out. The new dates are a month earlier.”

Richards said the write-in candidates’ names would be “in the voting booth but not on the ballot,” and for those doing mail-in ballots, they will be provided with a link which will have the same information.

“We only give dates as a courtesy,” said Richards. “It is correct on our website in two different places. It is up to them (the candidates) to make sure of the dates.”

Richards said the ballots would be printed on Sept. 9 and even though the dates were wrong, the petitions were late and that cannot be changed.

Deputy County Attorney Jason Moore told the Independent that there was a statue which changed the dates.

He stated in an email that, “(The statute is) A.R.S. § 16-311(B), and it was modified by the enactment of SB 1154 on May 22, 2019. The statute was modified as part of a larger overall bill modifying a significant number of statutes in Title 16. As to write-ins, the Bill modified A.R.S. § 16-311(B) to require candidates in nonpartisan races to file nomination papers earlier in order to appear on the ballot than was required in the past. Prior to SB 1154, the statute required candidates to file ‘not less than ninety nor more than one hundred twenty days before the election.’ As modified by SB 1154, the filing period for nonpartisan offices is now ‘not less than one hundred twenty nor more than one hundred fifty days before the election.’”

Moore stated, “While no candidate from the Sanitary District can appear on the ballot as all of them filed nomination petitions after the statutory deadline, they can still be elected as write-in candidates under A.R.S. 16-312, and that is how we are proceeding. The Elections Office, of course, regrets and apologizes for failing to communicate the correct dates to the candidates interested in the open board positions for the Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District.”

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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