Gainesville Ward 3 vote total up in the air

May 10—The official swearing in of a new city council member Tuesday was put on hold due to a mail-in ballot.

A final ballot came in for the election for Gainesville City council seat for Ward 3, but there is discussion as to the legality of the ballot and if it can be accepted.

"On May 6, the deadline for late domestic ballots, I received a non-postmarked ballot by mail," said Diana Alcala, the City Secretary for Gainesville. "The election law does state that it must be postmarked and time-stamped. Although this ballot by mail was not postmarked with the timestamp, it did have a barcode sticker provided by the USPS. Because of the potential that the barcode could include time data as scanned, we immediately sought legal counsel for how to proceed with this ballot."

Alcala urgently sought information due to the potential for a tie. The election between Randy Jones and incumbent Michael Hill came down to a 25-24 vote with Jones squeaking ahead, and this one ballot could change the result.

After consulting with the Secretary of State, Alcala was told that if the barcode could provide data about the time or date, the ballot could be accepted. However, the Gainesville Postmaster Vallarie Taylor told Alcala that the barcode could not provide any information about if the ballot was in the mail at a certain time, as the barcode was just to identify the mail route it would go on.

"At 10:56 a.m. on May 7, I called the secretary of state legal department to follow up on the written statement I requested and to update them on the letter I received from the postmaster," said Alcala. "The Legal Department stated they were doing their best to have a written statement for me today, but verbally confirmed that the ballot would be rejected due to not receiving the postmark."

The city attorney recommended that the election not be canvassed and confirmed until after receiving a written confirmation by the Secretary of State.

"It is better to be safe and have the backup documentation before taking this action," said Alcala. "They said that it's very likely that they could get it tomorrow [Wednesday] ... but it is better to have the documentation because they have changed their minds before on verbal versus written."

Due to this delay, the swearing in of the councilmember for Ward 3, as well as the renewing of oaths by City Municipal Court Judge Chris Cypert and councilmembers Jeff Johnson and Mary Jo Dollar will be held at a later date. This also delayed the vote for Mayor Pro Tem.

The results have to be canvassed by May 15, before the next regularly scheduled city council meeting, so a special meeting will be called. Only two council members are needed to canvass the election, and the date of this meeting will be decided after the written statement is in.