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‘It’s going to be a write-in race:’ Flagstaff City Council ballot has only 2 official candidates

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Candidate Deadline Closes

City staff count signatures being turned in by Becky Daggett at 4:30 on Monday afternoon in Flagstaff City Hall. Daggett also turned in her resignation paperwork from her position on the current city council to run for mayor.

Flagstaff will have to elect at least two write-in candidates in order to have a full city council following the 2022 election cycle.

Concerns over the unusually high amount of petition signatures needed to qualify for the ballot circulated last week, and after Monday’s filing deadline, the dearth of qualifying city council candidates became official.

All four mayoral candidates -- incumbent Paul Deasy, Vice Mayor Becky Daggett, Councilmember Regina Salas and Daniel Williamson -- qualified for the ballot. Salas is in the last year of her term as a councilmember, but Daggett has more than two years remaining in her term. She will step down in order to campaign for mayor, leaving an open seat that will be filled by the current city council's appointment until Dec. 20, when the newly elected Council takes office.

Normally there are three city council seats available every election cycle, but with Daggett stepping down, a fourth “half-term” seat will be open. According to Flagstaff City Clerk Stacy Saltzburg, the city council candidate with the fourth-most votes in this year's election will take over Daggett’s seat and serve the remaining two years of her term, while the others hold their positions until 2026.

But in a city council election with four open seats, only two of nine candidates received enough petition signatures to be included on the ballot: Austin Aslan and Lori Matthews.

That leaves seven candidates — Kevin Dobbe, Matt Eckhoff, Sean Golliher, Deborah Harris, Livándrea Knoki, Alec Sheedy and Sydney Shevat — who pulled papers but did not collect enough signatures to make the ballot. They still have the option of running as write-in candidates. Of these seven, Dobbe, Harris and Knoki confirmed to the Arizona Daily Sun that they intend to run a write-in campaign. Eckhoff and Golliher are undecided about their next moves. Sheedy and Shevat did not return requests for comment.

It’s a situation “I’ve never been faced with,” Saltzburg said. “It’s definitely a conundrum.”

She explained that in order to be eligible for write-in votes, candidates must file the appropriate paperwork, which her office will begin accepting June 11. Write-in candidates must also receive at least 1,602 votes — equal to the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot — in order to be elected. Saltzburg estimated that during the last election cycle, the top three candidates received about 11,000 votes each.

Even with four open seats, the two official candidates — Matthews and Aslan — are not guaranteed a seat on Council. In Saltzburg’s opinion, it’s unlikely, but possible, that the election could result in a city council with empty seats filled entirely by write-in candidates.

There’s several things for Flagstaff voters to remember about casting write-in votes, said Patty Hansen, Coconino County recorder.

“The main thing people will need to remember is that you need to fill in the oval and write the name,” she said. “If you just write the name, it’s not a valid vote.”

Hansen also wants voters to know that there is some acceptable variation within how to write in a candidate’s name. Some use of initials, common nicknames or misspellings are permissible so long as the voting board can trace the name to an official write-in candidate. Using her name, Patricia Hansen, as an example, she said “P. Hansen,” “Patty Hansen” and “Patricia Hanson” would all be acceptable in a write-in situation.

When it comes to concerns over voter fraud, Hansen explained that there is no reason to believe that a write-in election will be more vulnerable to fraud. Bipartisan voting boards oversee the tabulation of all write-in votes, and write-in candidates can also arrange to have observers positioned at polling stations to monitor the process.

What will be impacted is the time it takes to get election results. Because write-in votes must be hand-counted to ensure accuracy, Hansen estimated it would take “two or three days,” after election night to receive results for the Council race.

Like Saltzburg, Hansen was surprised that Flagstaff will not have a ballot filled by officially qualified candidates.

“We haven't had this happen before” she said. “At least not in the time I've been here since 2003.”

Residents of Flagstaff also expressed some disappointment over the situation.

“Something’s rotten in the State of Denmark,” said Leslie Baker, quoting Shakespeare to express her dismay over the amount of signatures city council candidates were asked to collect. “It shouldn’t be this hard to serve your city.”

“I think it shows a lack of trust, a lack of engagement,” said Stu Howe, who noted that he hadn’t encountered any candidates collecting signatures in public.

Learning about local elections and city candidates has been “extremely difficult,” said Jason Napolitano, who moved to Flagstaff 10 months ago, intends to vote, but tries to stay off social media.

“Without that, where do I go?” he asked.

The City of Flagstaff will conduct a primary election on Aug. 2. The candidate primary will take place to determine two mayoral candidates for the Nov. 8 general election. Council candidates will not be considered at the primary election.

Ivanka Trump, former President Donald Trump's daughter and among those closest to him during the insurrection at the Capitol, is set to testify Tuesday before the Jan. 6 committee, according to three people familiar with the situation.Ivanka Trump is one of more than 800 witnesses the committee has interviewed as it works to compile a record of the attack, the worst on the Capitol in more than two centuries. She the first of Trump's children known to speak to the committee and one of the closest people to her father.Her decision to cooperate is significant for the committee, which has been trying to secure an interview with her since late January. It comes less than a week after her husband, Jared Kushner, testified to the nine-member panel in a virtual meeting that lasted more than six hours. Members of the committee said his testimony was helpful and are hoping to further fill in the gaps with her help.SEE MORE: Jan. 6 Panel Puts Garland In 'Precarious' Spot, Ups PressureHer testimony, like others before the committee, will be private. The panel is using the interviews to compile a comprehensive record and will begin to release information in the coming months as it holds public hearings and releases a series of reports on the insurrection.Lawmakers have said they want to discuss what Ivanka Trump knew about her fathers efforts, including a telephone call they say she witnessed, to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject Joe Biden's 2020 election win as part of his ceremonial role overseeing the electoral count. Pence rejected those efforts.The committee is also interested in any concerns she may have heard from Pences staff, members of Congress and the White House counsels office about Trump's pressure on Pence.SEE MORE: House Committee Investigating Jan. 6 To Question Jared KushnerIvanka Trump's cooperation stands in contrast with some of her father's other top advisers, several of whom have refused to cooperate as the former president has fought the probe. Trump has tried to exert executive privilege over documents and interviews, but in many cases has been overruled by courts or President Biden, who has that authority as the sitting president.The House is expected to vote this week to recommend contempt charges for Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, both of whom the committee says have been uncooperative. The committee previously voted to recommend contempt charges against longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon, who defied a congressional subpoena, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who ceased cooperating with the panel.Bannon was later indicted by a federal grand jury and is awaiting prosecution by the Justice Department. The Justice Department has not taken any action against Meadows.Other witnesses who are still close to the former president and several who were in the White House that day have declined to answer the committees questions.Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Sean Golightly can be reached at sgolightly@azdailysun.com

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Sean Golightly reports on the environment and the city of Flagstaff. Reach him at sgolightly@azdailysun.com, on Twitter at @sean_golightly, or on Instagram at @golightly_writes.

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