Nov. 28—GOSHEN — There has been a change in the results for the Concord Community Schools' Board of Trustees election race.
Originally, it was believed that Jennifer Davis, Tara Towner and Stacy McDowell were elected to the school board, but a recount has determined that Mike Malooley will take the place of Stacy McDowell on the board next year. The seat replaces incumbent Jared Sponseller, who is currently board secretary.
"So much changed within the space of a half hour," Malooley said. "At one point I was in a state of acceptance about how everything went and then it changed. It's unfortunate when we run into problems when election results cannot be considered fully legitimate without controversy. Nobody likes controversy when it comes to our elections."
Concord school board's race this year allowed for three candidates to be chosen Nov. 8. The county and state saw a massive increase in the number of candidates running this year, with eight candidates running in Concord's race alone. Candidates were incumbent Jennifer Davis, Mike Malooley, and incumbent Tara Towner in District 1, and in District 2, Crystal Kidder, Stacy McDowell, Fikre Menbere, incumbent Jared Sponseller, and Damion Steele.
Concord's singular race allowed for up to one candidate from District 2, but had a total of three seats available. McDowell explained that, for her, at least, it created confusion because it appeared that only two District 1 candidates could also be selected alongside the one from District 2, which was not the case.
But that wasn't even the primary issue that caused the recount. Instead, it was the fact that thousands of ballots were cast incorrectly. A total of 5,682 votes were cast in the school board election, but 1,199 were deemed invalid due to overvoting, resulting in major changes to the vote totals for many candidates.
"A ballot is not valid if more than the maximum number of members are voted on from a board member resident's district," Chris Anderson read from the resolution designed to correct the certification error during the Elkhart County Election Board meeting Monday morning. "This is a unique condition specific to certain multi-district school board races."
In addition to that, 1,050 ballots contained no votes for school board at all, for a grand total of 2,350 voters in the district who either overvoted or undervoted — 39% of the total district vote.
"It's been very, very, very stressful," Anderson said, adding that the election board and the district's attorney have plans to meet and work on a solution that prevents the issue in the future.
Concord's election allowed for a total of three seats, with no more than one from District 2. The ballot counting process should have excluded ballots voting for more than one District 2 candidate, because the race only allowed for one to win, but the initial count by machine did not render those votes invalid.
"We can control 'no more than three.' It's that second undervote within that we can't," Anderson said. According to Anderson, when the issue initially arose, he researched to discover that no other board in the state had vote language quite like Concord's.
"Undervoting's not a problem," school board president Kami Wait said. "It's the overvoting that's the problem."
The board has used the same language for at least 10 years, Wait said, and this is the first year there's been an issue. Concord Community Schools' Superintendent Dan Funston explained that there is no meeting or official vote attached to the ballot language approval process. Rather, the district's attorney, Tim Shelly, confirms with board members that the existing wording will suffice, and then sends it to the election board for approval. Concord's ballot language was sent to the election board on June 28.
"We had eight candidates — that's not a lot," Wait added. "There have seen school corporations with 20 candidates ... the amount of candidates does not equal overvoting or undervoting. You can have as many candidates as you want to run for a race. That's why people love it, right? You have a right to run for a race. That's why we love America."
As a result of the error, however, the election board and staff were forced to manually recount the votes in order to eliminate all invalid ballots from the count. The new results are as follows:
Jennifer Davis went from 2,709 votes to 2,264, for a loss of 445 votes.
Mike Malooley went from 1,322 votes to 1,105, for a loss of 217 votes.
Tara Towner went from 1,903 votes to 1,677, for a loss of 226 votes.
Crystal Kidder went from 1,061 votes to 495, for a loss of 566 votes.
Stacy McDowell went from votes 1,894 to 1,050, for a loss of 844 votes.
Fikre Menbere went from 743 votes to 364, for a loss of 379 votes.
Jared Sponseller went from 1,400 votes to 881, for a loss of 519 votes.
Damion Steele went from 482 votes to 211, for a loss of 271 votes.
"Everybody was running against everybody with district residency requirements within the organizational plan of the school district," Anderson explained.
For this election recount, the top vote-getters were Jennifer Davis, Mike Malooley, and Tara Towner. While the maximum allotted from District 2 was one candidate, a candidate did not need to be selected from District 2, only three in total. Previously the certified votes indicated that McDowell had beaten Malooley by 560, with Sponseller between them in number of votes, but the result after removing invalid votes was Malooley beating out McDowell by just 55 votes.
"It's disappointing for sure," McDowell said. "We want to trust our election process and this calls that into question. I'm still trying to understand it, I guess."
For her part, Wait said the board hasn't changed their opinion about the winner.
"We're still excited to work with whoever and now we'll bring on Mr. Malooley like we were Mrs. McDowell and keep moving forward to educate kids because that's the only important thing. That's what we do," she said.
Malooley said that he wasn't thrilled about the situation either, but he's hoping in the future things will be better and he has confidence that Anderson, the board, and the election board will make necessary arrangements to correct any issues.
"I'm obviously glad to be in a position where I can follow through on some issues and concerns I identified during the campaign, and I'm going to give all this some time to die down so we can move on and get back to some of the issues that affect specifically the Concord community," he added.
The Elkhart County Election Board recertified the results, and the election numbers will be officially available to the public at noon Monday.
Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 574-538-2065.