CALDWELL — Caldwell’s legal team is still reviewing whether a runoff election is needed in a controversial city council race.
Former state Sen. John McGee got the most votes for Seat 6 in a three-way race Tuesday, but he didn’t get more than 50%. That sparked confusion among residents and officials because Caldwell city code calls for the winner to receive a majority of votes, which could mean 50% plus one more vote.
Caldwell officials expected to have a statement on the election prepared by Thursday. But at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said in an email to the Idaho Press, “The issue is taking longer to reach a conclusion than the City of Caldwell anticipated.”
Caldwell’s legal counsel now expects to have a decision ready by the end of the day Friday, Wilson said.
Canyon County officials had also requested written confirmation from the Secretary of State’s Office that no runoff election was needed.
Some Caldwell residents Wednesday were calling for a runoff after McGee, who resigned from the Senate in 2012 amid a sexual harassment allegation, got the most votes among the three candidates.
McGee received 1,291 votes, or 39.2%, according to Canyon County’s election results page. Evangeline Beechler came in second with 1,005 votes, or 30.6%, while incumbent Councilman Chuck Stadick narrowly finished third with 994 votes, or 30.2%.
Residents and Beechler expressed confusion about whether the results warranted a runoff election based on language in Caldwell’s city code, adopted in 1989, which states, “Members of the Caldwell City Council shall be elected by a majority of the qualified electors as established by State Code.”
Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane said the overall state law, which is the default position for all Idaho cities, says that the candidate who gets the most votes wins the race, whether it’s for city council or mayor. Since 1984, state law has also authorized cities to pass a local ordinance to require a runoff between the two top vote-getters if no candidate gets a majority of the vote. Caldwell’s code does not mention a runoff election.
Penny Manning, Bonneville County clerk, has dealt with a number of city runoffs in her eastern Idaho county.
“Idaho Falls is the only city in the state that has runoffs for council members,” she said Thursday.
The other cities that have runoff ordinances — applying only to mayoral races — are American Falls, Blackfoot, Boise, Eagle, Mountain Home, Pocatello and Spirit Lake.
There have been several cases in the past where Caldwell City Council candidates have won with less than 50% of the votes. In 2017, when Beechler ran against Councilman Rob Hopper and two other candidates, Hopper won with 37% of the vote and there was no runoff.
Beechler said she believes there is more demand for a runoff from residents this year due to outrage over the election of McGee. After his resignation from the Senate, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disturbing-the-peace charge related to the sexual harassment of a female staffer and was sentenced to up to 88 days in jail. That came a year after McGee pleaded guilty to DUI for driving drunk and jackknifing a stranger’s SUV and cargo trailer.
In a public statement sent to the Idaho Press Thursday, Beechler said she is working with her team and legal experts to figure out what’s required by Caldwell’s city code. If a runoff election is required, she said she believes that means Caldwell has potentially been violating its own city code for up to 30 years, as the ordinance was signed in 1989.
“Caldwell residents need to be reassured that their city leaders are following the law,” Beechler said in the statement.
Idaho Press reporter Betsy Russell contributed to this report.