Midway City Secretary Debra Newkirk was a driving force behind Representative Trent Ashby’s House Bill 1067, which was officially filed in January and would allow city officials to remove deceased candidates from election ballots.
Current law states that in order to remove a deceased candidate from the ballot, their death must have occurred at least two days before the filing period.
“That is what happened last year and started this,” said Newkirk. “We had a long sitting council member who passed away in March, which was right before I was supposed to print our ballots.”
Newkirk called the Secretary of State’s office and was informed that Council Member Jimmy Cook’s name would have to remain on the ballot, which understandably caused confusion among citizens who knew of his passing.
But Cook still won reelection, which created a vacancy on the council. Midway is a Type B Municipality, which means all vacancies on the council are filled by appointment instead of special elections.
“This made no sense to me whatsoever," said Newkirk. “Elections are expensive for small towns and having to fill a vacancy just makes it hard on everybody. They recently changed the law to allow someone to withdraw much later so I wondered why you could not take a deceased person off the ballot.”
Newkirk got in touch with Ashby and his staff to address the issue before she wrote out her proposed change to allow names of deceased candidates to be removed from consideration before the ballots are printed. Her words were ultimately written up and filed by Ashby and can be found in HB 1067.
“It is really exciting,” said Newkirk. “I wrote this up for them to look at just trying to find out if something like this could even be done. It still has a lot of steps to go, but getting it written and filed are the first two. That is where it is at.”
Newkirk’s proposal was sent to Ashby’s office in August of last year after she spoke with him and the Governor when they visited Leona General Store. The official proposed change in HB 1067 reads as follows:
‘If a candidate dies on or after the second day before the deadline for filing an application for a place on the ballot and before the ballots are prepared, the authority responsible for preparing the ballots may choose to omit the candidate from the ballot.’
This means the ultimate decision still lies with the authority of the particular election.
“You never expect to encounter things that there are no rules for,” said Newkirk. “And when you do you think that it is going to take something serious to get it changed. But Trent Ashby is so awesome because he understood where I was coming from and he knew what I was trying to do, which was prevent a vacancy on the council and allow voters to get them seated.”
The Bill can be found in full at legiscan.com.
“When I approached (Ashby’s) office with his, they could have laughed it off, but they listen and his staff listens” said Newkrik. “They heard my concern because in my request I addressed the concerns of smaller communities. As a city secretary, that is all I know. But I know what we went through to fill the vacancy.”
HB 1067 was officially filed in the House on Jan. 24.