Judge overturns Pinedale Town Council election
Dave smith out; Dave Hohl in… pending possible stay and appeal
by Bob Rule, owner/manager, KPIN Radio
March 9, 2007
On May 2, 2006, Pinedale held a municipal election, and elected two new town council members, Dave Smith and Chris House, and also a new mayor, Stephen Smith. Shortly after the election, grumblings of "foul" were heard from several local citizens, claiming that they were not allowed to vote because they had registered to vote during the "30 day trap" time period prior to the election, and also because some of the candidates on the ballot were not registered voters in Pinedale at the time they requested that their name be placed on the ballot.
The "30 day trap" apparently resulted when the old Wyoming election law, which required voters to be registered 30 days prior to an election, was supplemented with a new election law several years ago, which stated that voters could register on election day, and vote that same day. This left a 30 day window, where if citizens registered to vote during this window, they could not vote in an upcoming election, but those waiting for election day to register could vote. Several Pinedale citizens stated that they were not warned of this "30 day trap" when they registered at the Courthouse in order to vote in the then upcoming Pinedale town election.
As a result of this "30 day trap", and having candidates on the ballot who were not registered to vote in Pinedale at the time they submitted their applications to be on the ballot, two residents of Pinedale, Robert Brito and Loretta Deats, filed suit in District Court to remedy the situation. Brito was one of the candidates on the ballot running for Town Council, but he did not win.
On Thursday, March 08, 2007, a portion of this case was decided by District Court Judge Norman Young in Lander, Wyoming. The judge did not rule on Thursday on the "30 day trap" portion of the lawsuit, and it is expected that this concern will be addressed by the court separately. He did rule on the matter of having a candidate seated on the Pinedale Town Council who was alleged to have not been properly registered to vote when he submitted his application to have his name placed on the ballot for Pinedale Town Council.
According to a report received by KPIN from Clark Stith, attorney for the plaintiffs, Judge Norman Young ruled that Dave Smith would lose his seat on the Town Council, and he would be replaced by Dave Hohl, the candidate who received the highest number of votes among those candidates not winning a seat on the Town Council.
According to Stith, the ruling does not become effective until signed and filed by Judge Young. Furthermore, Ed Wood, the attorney for the Town of Pinedale, requested a stay in this order, as Wood files an appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court. If the stay is granted by Judge Young, then Dave Smith would remain in office until a ruling is made by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Pinedale’s Mayor, Stephen Smith, issued the following statement based on discussions with Pinedale’s Town Attorney: "The court ruled that since Councilman David Smith was not registered to vote the day he applied to be a candidate in the town’s election, he was not a qualified candidate, and therefore not qualified to hold office. Any changes on Pinedale’s Town Council are currently awaiting a decision on the stay pending an appeal requested by our attorney. That decision will not be rendered until sometime during the next two weeks."
When candidate Dave Hohl was contacted by KPIN Radio, he responded to a request for comments with praise and thanks for the service which Dave Smith has provided to the Town of Pinedale. Hohl went on to say, "The judge has sent a message that no one is above the law, and that all candidates in an election must play by the same rules."
Plaintiff Robert Brito, who did not receive enough votes for Town Council to be considered even if Dave Smith was removed from office, stated, "I didn’t do this to run for office again. I did this because I wanted people to see that this was a wrong". Brito went on to say, "…we should get our elections correct."
NOTE: KPIN radio did not have anyone present at the hearing in Lander.
Defense answers plaintiffs call for new election by Janet Montgomery (Sublette Examiner, January 11, 2007)
Town council candidate case may be headed for partial summary judgment by Annie O’Brien (Pinedale Roundup, February 8, 2007)