50% Plus One
7:27 am
Wed March 13, 2013

Raising Questions About Macomb Election Result

In most elections, the candidate with the most votes wins. But that did not apply in a recent Macomb election – and no one seems able to explain how the city came up with its rule.

Macomb City Hall
Credit Rich Egger

The on-air story

In Macomb’s Ward 2 election on February 26, it initially appeared Western Illinois University student Steve Wailand defeated incumbent alderwoman Kay Hill, 17 – 16.

But County Clerk Gretchen DeJaynes quickly declared there was no winner because neither candidate received 50% of the vote plus one. She said 50% of the 33 votes cast is 16.5, plus one equals 17.5, and both candidates came up short of that threshold.

That raises a couple questions. One is: who decided that Macomb elections must be decided by “50% plus one?” That phrase does not appear in Section 2.3 of the Municipal Code, which deals with election procedures.

Here is what it says in Part 5 of that section:

Candidates receiving majority elected; supplementary elections.  The candidate receiving a majority of the votes cast for mayor, clerk, treasurer, alderman at-large, and city alderman in each ward or wards at any general election shall be declared elected. If no candidate receives a majority of such votes, a supplementary election shall be held at the time prescribed in subsection (1) of this section. At such supplementary election the names of the candidates receiving the highest and second highest number of votes at the preceding general election and no others shall be placed on the official ballot; provided, however, that, if there be any candidate who under the provisions of this section would have been entitled to a place on the ballot at the supplementary election except for the fact that some other candidate received an equal number of votes, then all such candidates receiving such equal number of votes shall have their names printed on the ballot as candidates at such succeeding supplementary election. The candidate receiving the highest number of votes at such supplementary election shall be declared elected. Such supplementary election shall be deemed a special election under the election and ballot laws in force in the city and shall be governed thereby except in so far as such laws are inconsistent with the provisions of this section.

The code does not define what is meant by “majority.” The Oxford American Dictionary defines majority as “The greater number or part.” It includes several other definitions too, but none refer to the phrase “50% plus one.”

DeJaynes said she simply administers the election the way the city tells her to.

“It has always been a 50% plus one for the February election,” DeJaynes said. “It is their call to define that.”

At City Hall, Clerk Melanie Falk said the election has always been “50% plus one,” and Attorney Kristen Petrie referred questions to DeJaynes, saying it’s up to her to certify the election.

Mayor Mike Inman concurred.

“We’re going to tell you that the county clerk makes those recommendations and does all the information relative to our election process. So, she certified those votes,” Inman said.

“She made the call. We’re going to leave it in her hands.”

So it’s unclear how “majority” came to be defined as “50% plus one” in Macomb’s February election. Under that rule, no one could ever win by a single vote.

The Illinois State Board of Elections declined to weigh in on the matter because this election does not fall under its jurisdiction.

Steve Wailand – the candidate who received the most votes in the election -- has not been available for comment. 

One other question is raised by the result in Macomb’s second ward: How can you hold a run-off election when there were just two candidates to begin with?

That’s not a run-off; that’s a re-vote.