Councilman Peter Murphy said Monday a lawsuit may be on the horizon if the Hamilton County Election Commission does not reverse a decision to award Yusuf Hakeem victory in the District 9 election for Chattanooga City Council.
At a press conference held in Waterhouse Pavilion, the councilman said the election results, as certified by the commission last week, indicated there was no clear winner in the race, according to the City Charter.
"In every election, there's only one official election result, only one," Murphy said, addressing media members and a small band of supporters. "And that election result is written, it is certified, and it is signed."
Murphy distributed copies of the certified election results, validated by the Election Commission on March 13.
The results, as certified, still show seven write-in votes—including two that were struck by commissioners in a vote last Wednesday.
As certified, Hakeem bested Murphy by six votes—but failed to claim the 50 percent plus one majority required to claim victory. That's because the seven write-in votes left Hakeem one vote short of claiming a simple majority of the votes cast in the race.
The commission's decision to strike two ballots that were marked "write-in" but included no corresponding name suggested Hakeem won the seat by one vote.
Murphy said that despite the commission's decision, the certified results legally obligated the county to administer a runoff election on April 9. The councilman pointed out that a total of 211 write-in votes were tallied citywide in the March 5 election, including 67 in the mayor's race and 57 in the uncontested District 6 race.
"None of those ballots were examined to see what they said, and the people of District 9 deserve to have their votes counted in the same way as everyone else's," he said.
Murphy added that if commissioners rejected his request to reverse their decision, he was prepared to "seek judicial enforcement of the rights of voters." He requested a response from the commission by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
It remains to be seen if the Election Commission would even be able to "un-certify" an election or if it would be able to make a decision before Murphy's Tuesday deadline. At an emergency meeting held by commissioners shortly after election day, the group postponed their gathering in order to meet a Sunshine Law requirement that says meetings must be advertised at least 24 hours before taking place.
"That's not in the taxpayers' interest; that's not in the people's interest in District 9," he said. "What is in our interest is for the Election Commission to do its job and schedule the runoff election."
Attempts by Nooga.com to reach members of the Election Commission, along with Election Commission Attorney Chris Clem, were unsuccessful Monday evening.
Hakeem said Monday evening that he would be "legally prepared to move forward" if the commission opted to reverse its decision and hold a runoff.
"I would only say that I have been certified by the Election Commission," Hakeem said. "I am moving forward to work with constituents. When it comes to commenting about court, I would leave that to my attorneys. This is something that I expected."
Hakeem said he thought Murphy had the right to contest the results, but suggested he was putting his own interests ahead of the voters in District 9.
"I have to question if the good of the community is being put forward as opposed to my opponent's mindset in regard to this," he said. "He does, of course, have a right to contest it, that's the American way—but I think if he pursues it, we're prepared."