June - Councilwoman Paula Abbott finished ahead of Don Cox by four votes after a recount May 31 that decided the winner of the third of three seats on the Oro Valley Town Council, putting an end to one of the closest elections in the town's history.
Superior Court Judge Michael Miller certified the recount results on June 1 and the councilmembers-elect will be sworn into office at a meeting of the town council on June 7, said Roxana Garrity, deputy town clerk.
Incumbent KC Carter received the most votes in the election followed by former Planning and Zoning Commissioner Al Kunisch, then Abbott.
Abbott, who has served on the council since 2002, expressed relief at the result and joy that the election is finally over.
"I'm humbled by the results and I'm grateful to my supporters, and I'm glad that families and children will continue to have a voice on the council," Abbott said.
Cox, who also lost a bid for town council in 2004, said he plans to stay involved in Oro Valley government, but added he wished more people had voted in the election.
"My greatest disappointment is the 15,000 people who didn't vote in the election. It's a shame," Cox said. "I firmly believe, in a head-to-head contest where everyone knows what the candidates stand for, more people would have agreed with my message than with Paula Abbott's."
Although the 7,927 ballots cast in the May 16 town council election represented 33.8 percent of the registered voters in Oro Valley, Cox, who initially had more votes than Abbott before the county counted early ballots and provisional ballots (those that required verification of authenticity), finished just 45 votes behind Carter at the top of the list.
After the county announced the first set of results in the early hours of May 17, Cox led Abbott by 18 votes. Once early and provisional votes were added on May 20, Abbott gained a three-vote lead over Cox. Abbott ultimately did better in the early votes while Cox did better at the polls.
Brad Nelson, elections director for Pima County, did not know why Abbott's lead extended from three to four votes after the recount, although he said such a minor anomaly is not unusual in electronic vote counting.
Since less than 10 votes separated Cox and Abbott, state law mandated a recount. The recount went forward May 31 despite an unsuccessful attempt by Abbott to have Miller order Pima County to change its recount procedures.
William Risner, Abbott's attorney, filed an objection to the county's recount arguing against the security and accountability of the ballot machine performing the recount.
The debate that ensued in Miller's court on May 30 concerned a line in state law that states, "the programs to be used in the recount of votes pursuant to this section shall differ from the programs prescribed by (ARS) 16-445 and used in the initial tabulation of the votes."
The law outlines how to use an electronic vote tabulation device in an election.
Risner argued that by using the same ballot machine installed with the same software, the county intended to use a program for the recount that did not differ from the program used in the initial ballot count.
"We've proposed something that will comply with the letter of the law. The Secretary of State's office says the program used in the recount must differ from the one used in the initial count," Risner said. "Our suggestion , we believe, complies with that statute."
Risner suggested other methods for tabulating the results and even called a witness who challenged the security of the county's voting machines.
Melinda Garrahan, town attorney for Oro Valley, argued that Abbott could only contest the recount procedure after the recount, if at all. She also outlined the certification process all election procedures must go through, which includes overview from both the Department of Justice and the Arizona Secretary of State.
"Equipment and systems must be certified by the Secretary of State - pocket calculators and Excel aren't certified," Garrahan said, adding that only the central count machine is certified for a recount, and that certification can take months to get. "Preclearance is much broader than Mr. Risner argues. Any change is looked at by the Department of Justice."
The judge agreed with the town and the recount went forward.
Still, Cox felt it was inappropriate for Abbott to add further confusion and delay to the Oro Valley election process.
"I get the feeling that this is less about the recount and more of a cause for changing state law," Cox said. "I don't understand what her motive is, but she doesn't make sense in what she does. As far as I'm concerned, this is just another case of Paula Abbott foolishness."
Oro Valley Vice Mayor Terry Parish said he thought Abbott's objection to the county's recount process was an unnecessary hassle for Garrahan and the rest of the town government.
"I don't think a councilmember with the best interests of the town at heart would do something like this," Parish said. "I'm very frustrated that the councilmember that is absent the most, who shows up to meetings unprepared, that is late on a consistent basis, is the one dragging us into court while we don't need to go, and she's already been re-elected. Leave us alone Paula, and let the process work."
Before Miller's decision, Kunisch said he thought Abbott should be free to file an inquiry and let a judge evaluate the county's recount plan, although he doubted the judge would side with her.
After Miller's ruling, Abbott said she was disappointed he did not agree that the county's recount procedures threaten the legitimacy of the election.
"I accept the Judge's order, but I think it puts a cloud on doubt of this election, and I think there will always be a question over the accuracy of the recount," Abbott said.
Final recount results: Carter, 3,471 votes; Kunisch, 3,444; Abbott, 3,430; Cox, 3,426; Pastryk, 3,009; Culver, 2,751.