- Cullman, Alabama

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October 11, 2012

Deadlock on mayor’s race could be decided by next council

If the still-deadlocked runoff race for mayor at Colony ends up tied in an upcoming vote among the town’s mayor and council, the matter will be out of the hands of the current administration, and will be taken up by the new council next month.

Candidates Patrick Ward and Donnis Leeth, both members of the Colony town council, received 64 votes apiece in Tuesday’s runoff mayoral election. Alabama elections law tasks the present mayor and council with holding its own vote to choose one of the men to run the town for the next four years.

Including current mayor Morris Fitts, there’d be six council votes up for grabs — conceivably leading to yet another tie, if the council ends up casting three votes for each candidate. Fitts and others familiar with council members’ tendencies said Tuesday a 3-3 vote is, in fact, likely.

According to Lori Lein, general counsel for the Alabama League of Municipalities, the law doesn’t forbid Ward and Leeth from participating in the council vote — although, if each man votes for himself, their participation will be a moot issue that won’t change the outcome.

And, said Lein, the council’s vote to settle the mayor’s race will represent its one and only shot at having a say in selecting Colony’s next mayor.

“The voting is based on the current council,” said Lein. “If they can’t, through the democratic process, get the majority of the current council to break the tie before the end of this term in office, which ends in early November, then the new council taking office would declare that seat vacant.

“Then, they would follow the procedures for filling the vacancy — which means that council would fill the seat by election. And that council could choose any qualified elector in the town for that position.”

While a runoff tie is an extraordinary circumstance that has sent candidates, observers and lawyers to the internet and code books in a search to uncover how a town’s leaders must proceed, Lein said 2012 has been unusual in Alabama, with two such instances in runoff elections occurring statewide this year.

“I’ve been here 11 years, so this is my third election cycle, and I’ve not seen that situation before,” said Lein. “But, there is also a tie in a runoff in Camden, Alabama, for a council seat this year.”

At least Colony’s future is still in the hands of those with deliberative power. But, noted Lein, if Ward and Leeth were vying for a county or state office, the tied runoff wouldn’t be decided by any governing body. In fact, it wouldn’t be decided by a vote at all.

“In all elections where there is a tie between the two highest candidates for the same office, for all county or precinct offices, it shall be decided by lot by the sheriff of the county in the presence of the candidates,” reads Alabama Code section 17-12-23.

“By lot?” What does that mean?

A flip of a coin.

* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

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