Dr. James Quirk casts his ballot on Tuesday for the Sublette County special election. Voters decided to decrease the number of commissioners back to three by 142 votes.
PINEDALE – The results of the Sublette County Board of Commissioners special election were announced on Wednesday and, after months of petitions, pleas and advertisements, 974 voters elected to decrease the number of commissioners from five to three, trumping the 832 ballots for keeping the board at five.
While the total results definitively showed a desire to return to three commissioners, area results varied. In Pinedale, 468 voted to keep five commissioners compared to the 368 who wanted three. The area that really swung the election was Marbleton and Big Piney, which had an overwhelming 329 voters, relative to the 460 who turned out, choosing to go back to three.
Tuesday’s election was the culmination of a nine-month controversy that began in August 2001 when a group of concerned citizens organized an election to increase the number of commissioners to five. Headed by Pinedale resident Paul Rock, the “Go to Five” group argued three county commissioners was not diverse enough to make decisions for a county that funds 20 percent of the state’s budget.
Out of 3,812 registered voters in 2011, 1,093, or 28 percent, turned out and voted to increase the number of commissioners to five.
Following that election, Sublette County Maintenance Supervisor Andy O’Neal, with the help of Pinedale resident Paul Johnson, began circulating a petition for another special election to revert the number of commissioners from five back to three.
“The complaint I heard was the voter turnout was too low, and that’s what bothered people more than the outcome,” Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford said. “I think they just wanted their voice heard, [and people] didn’t want to make a major change based on 28 percent of registered voters.”
Voters who turned out on Tuesday constituted a much higher percentage of registered voters than those who voted in 2011.
Out of 3,936 registered voters, 1,806, or 45 percent voted.
While not shocked by the outcome of the election, Rock said he was unsure why Marbleton and Big Piney felt so strongly about having three commissioners.
“I don’t know, you have to ask them,” Rock said. “Obviously, they wanted to stay with three. How [going to three] really helps out the south county, I always thought they’d be better off with five so they could get some south county people elected.”
The election is over, but the controversy continues. Because the 2011 special election successfully increased the number of commissioners from three to five, Rock said he will pursue litigation if Lankford refuses to increase the number of commissioners from three to five until the next regular election in November 2014.
“The ‘Go to Five’ people will seek injunctive relief because Wyoming State Statute 18-3-501 clearly states that those two additional seats created last year shall be filled,” Rock said.
Based on a recommendation from Sublette County Attorney Neal Stelting, Lankford said only one seat, commissioner John Linn’s, will be up for election this November.
In an email to the Roundup Stelting wrote the conclusion to keep three commissioners is based on statutory interpretation, legislative history and discussions with four other county and deputy county attorneys, discussions with a senator and representative who passed the statute and amendments to 18-3-501.
In regards to the election, 18-3-501 states the vote to increase “shall be in the general election or at an election date authorized under W.S. 22-21-103 preceding the election of three (3) commissioners.”
“Prior to yesterday’s results, the County was prepared to have a vote for three commissioners in this year’s general election,” Stelting wrote. “Now, based on yesterday’s results, 18-3-501 requires that two offices be eliminated prior to this year’s general election. 18-3-501 is not overruled by this election. This election and its effect are due to 18-3-501.”
Even with Stelting’s recommendation, litigation is more than likely on the horizon and Lankford is aware of this.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a challenge, so I’ll guess we’ll see what happens next,” Lankford said. “I’m just glad we had a really good turnout.” For the complete article see the 05-11-2012 issue.
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