Possibility hinges on challenge results as more candidates join Richmond election slate

Richmond could save an estimated $55,000 to $60,000 if no primary election is conducted in May.

The possibility for a rare cancellation arose on Friday, but still depends on a couple of factors.

As of Friday’s noon filing deadline, Richmond’s ballot for the primary election only has one contested race: three are currently seeking the Republican nomination for mayor.

However, the party’s chair has filed a challenge against two of the three GOP candidates. That could potentially leave one candidate, removing the need for the city’s voters to go to the polls in May.

If David Flannery and Shawn O’Conner do not withdraw their candidacies by Friday, Feb. 10, Wayne County’s election board will meet at 9 a.m. Feb. 13 to hear the challenge.

GOP Chair Gary Saunders says neither Flannery nor O’Conner meet the state’s requirement of voting as a Republican in the previous two primary elections. He told Western Wayne News he consulted with several other party members before deciding to file the challenges.

Flannery and O’Conner can be represented by legal counsel at the hearing if they choose. They will be invited to explain why they want to run on the Republican ballot.

Election board members will consider Flannery and O’Conner’s public voting records as they make their decision. Debbie Berry, Wayne County’s clerk, said they could have reasons why they didn’t vote in a way that satisfied filing requirements.

The three election board members (Republican J. Clayton Miller, Democrat Maggie Thomas, and Berry as a tiebreaker if needed) will decide whether Flannery and/or O’Conner can be on the ballot. If the board rules against them, they have the opportunity to appeal to the Circuit Court.

Primary decision

However, if any potential appeals fail, and there are no contested primary races, the election board probably would discuss at its regular March meeting whether a primary should be conducted at all.

Berry said a lot of smaller counties regularly do not have primaries because their candidates don’t face opposition within a party, and Wayne County’s election vendor was surprised that its services were being scheduled this spring.

She estimated the City of Richmond could save about $55,000 to $60,000 if no primary is conducted because there would be no need for poll workers on Election Day or the week prior; the vendor’s ballot preparation, printing, advertising, equipment setup and teardown; courthouse security on Saturdays; information technology staff if needed; testing; and the other many small expenses that are required.

The clerk’s office bills cities and towns for election costs.

Skipping the primary also would eliminate a logistics challenge.

Normally, the First Bank Kuhlman Center is used as one of the early voting locations. It already has been rented for an event, so Berry has been working to finalize another location for early voting and Election Day.

Primaries can help voters get to know candidates and issues, and help campaigns understand where to focus their efforts in a general election. But Berry said it’s hard enough getting voters to turn out for contested races, so she would expect a very low turnout for an uncontested municipal primary.

Berry said Wayne County typically doesn’t see more than 50% of eligible residents vote in a general election, with primaries bringing a lower turnout.

In Wayne County’s 2019 municipal primary, 11% (2,278) of the eligible registered voters (21,231) participated. Incumbent Richmond Mayor Dave Snow faced a challenger in the Democratic primary that year.

In the 2022 primary, 13% of registered voters cast ballots. There were two contested county-level races on the Republican ballot (auditor and District 1 commissioner), some contested state and U.S House of Representative races, and two Republican candidates to consider for county council’s District 3.

Overall, 5,662 of the county’s 42,707 eligible voters went to the polls last spring.

If the primary is canceled, Berry said prospective local candidates would not have a diminished chance of qualifying to run as a Republican or Democrat in future years, because voting records would note that the primary did not take place.

Last week’s filings

Before Friday’s deadline, a few more candidates registered, adding to this fall’s contested races.

Richmond Common Council District 2 incumbent Lucinda Wright, a Democrat, filed. She will face Gary Miller, a Republican.

In District 5, Republican Anne Taylor filed to face Democratic incumbent Jeff Locke.

And, voters now have more choices for at-large council seats. Three Republicans and two Democrats seek a total of three seats.

Democrats Claudia Edwards and Ron Itnyre are on the ballot. They will face Republicans Justin Burkhardt, who filed last week, along with Jerry Purcell and incumbent Jane Bumbalough.

And, the ballot could grow longer if additional candidates file as independents or for minor parties this summer. Potential mayoral candidates David Carpenter and Kevin Fox had filed as Republicans, but already withdrew from the race after Saunders’ challenge regarding their voting records.

Carpenter and Fox have announced plans to file again as independents. They have until June 30 to get the required 149 signatures from registered voters.

Who’s on Richmond’s ballot?

  • Richmond mayor: Ron Oler (Republican); incumbent Dave Snow (Democrat); the Republican candidacies of David Flannery and Shawn O’Conner are currently being challenged
  • Richmond clerk: Incumbent Karen Chasteen (D)
  • Richmond Common Council:
  • District 1: Incumbent Doug Goss (D)
  • District 2: Gary Miller (R); incumbent Dr. Lucinda Wright (D)
  • District 3: Incumbent Bill Engle (D)
  • District 4: Larry Parker (R) (currently in an at-large seat)
  • District 5: Anne Taylor (R); incumbent Jeff Locke (D)
  • District 6: Incumbent Gary Turner (R)
  • At-large: Republicans: Incumbent Jane Bumbalough, Jerry Purcell, Justin Burkhardt; Democrats: Claudia Edwards, Ron Itnyre

This story was updated Feb. 6 at 9:58 a.m. to add the names of all three Wayne County Election Board members.

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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.