Whether he’s eligible to run for the 18th Legislative District or not, John Ley’s name will remain on the Aug. 2 primary election ballot.
At a Wednesday morning hearing, Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson denied a request for a temporary restraining order. Vancouver residents Carolyn Crain and Penny Ross were seeking the order as part of suit filed against Clark County, Auditor Greg Kimsey and Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber.
Crain and Ross had hoped the order would force the Elections Office to print and mail new ballots without Ley’s name.
State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, who represented Crain and Ross at the hearing, said state law makes it clear that a candidate’s name can only appear on a ballot if that candidate is properly registered to vote in the same district in which they are running for office. He said it’s clear Ley was not properly registered, noting the county’s response to the lawsuit doesn’t dispute this.
“In my opinion, the question is whether that statute is enforceable,” he said.
Stokesbary said Crain has done everything required and within the designated time to properly challenge Ley’s name being on the ballot.
When Ley filed to run for the 18th District seat in May, Crain challenged his voter registration. Crain claimed Ley did not live at the Battle Ground address he listed but at his home in Camas. Kimsey held a hearing on the matter June 28, later ruling Ley did not live in Battle Ground. Because Ley had again changed his address July 4, this time to an apartment on Hazel Dell Avenue, Kimsey did not cancel Ley’s voter registration, which left Ley on the ballot. A day after Kimsey’s ruling, Crain and Ross filed suit.
Amanda Migchelbrink from the prosecutor’s office, who represented the county at the hearing, said removing Ley’s name isn’t that simple.
In addition to the extra expense, which was estimated at $250,000 to $300,000, Migchelbrink said there simply isn’t time to reprint more than 334,000 ballots and get them mailed in time.
Although only ballots from the 18th District would need to be replaced, Migchelbrink said the printing process for the ballots would require all ballots to be reprinted.
Stokesbary said while he understood reprinting the ballots would mean extra costs and work for the county, there were larger issues at stake.
“Especially in the year 2022, I’m nervous about the deleterious effects on democracy it would have if an ineligible candidate is allowed to remain on the ballot,” he said.
“You’re finding a receptive audience on the subject of election integrity and public confidence in the elections, but how do you respond to the criticism that the remedy you’re asking for is going to do more harm than good?” Gregerson asked Stokesbary.
Gregerson said some ballots have already been mailed, so reprinting them could mean some voters would get two ballots. That would only create greater confusion, he said.
“That does seem like a relatively small cost to the county in the scheme of things. More importantly, it’s a relatively small cost in the scheme of defending our democracy, making sure our laws have meaning, and only eligible candidates are permitted on the ballot,” Stokesbary said.
Migchelbrink said Crain and Ross have other options for challenging Ley’s candidacy.
“The statute says you have two days after the primary election to challenge what’s on the ballot. The information Mr. Kimsey had at the time Mr. Ley filed his candidacy was that he did reside in the 18th District,” Migchelbrink said.
Migchelbrink said if the ballots had to be reprinted, they wouldn’t be ready to mail out until after the primary election was over, effectively canceling the election because state law would prohibit the county from accepting completed ballots after 8 p.m. Aug. 2.
Stokesbary agreed this was a concern and suggested the judge could instead order the county to not count any votes for Ley. Gregerson said that was an option, but he could not consider it as part of this motion.
Crain and Ross still have time to seek other action by the court. In an interview late Wednesday, Crain said they are considering their next steps, including further motions for the court. What she doesn’t want to do is wait to see if Ley makes it through the primary. Crain said waiting until after the primary could leave voters with just one choice on the general election ballot if the other candidate is removed.
Ballots for the Aug. 2 primary election will be mailed this week, with the first ballots showing up in voters’ mailboxes beginning Friday.