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Primary election set belatedly for Valley Center City Council in Ward 2

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, at 5:49 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, at 9:58 p.m.

Valley Center will be holding a primary election this month after all.

After apparent miscommunication and confusion between the city and the Sedgwick County Election Office, it has been determined that the City Council race for Valley Center’s Ward 2 will require a primary because more than two candidates are running.

Laurie Dove, Shawn Ehrstein and Ricky Shellenbarger seek the Ward 2 seat in the Feb. 26 primary. Incumbent Harrison Gerling is not running.

Ward 2 is the only item on Valley Center’s primary ballot. Because of the late notice about the primary, there won’t be any electronic voting at the polls and only paper ballots will be used.

Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said in an email Monday that her office didn’t know until about noon Wednesday that Valley Center had changed its city ordinance so that a primary is necessary when more than two candidates are seeking election.

But Kristine Polian, Valley Center’s city clerk, said the new ordinance was sent to the election office shortly after it was passed on June 16, 2009.

In 2009, a state law was passed that said a city didn’t have to hold a primary unless there were more than three candidates. Some municipalities, including Valley Center and Wichita, opted out of that state law and established ordinances calling for a primary if more than two candidates have filed.

Valley Center was exercising its right under the state’s home rule powers, which allow a city to implement its own law on an issue when the state law isn’t uniform, Polian said.

This will be the first time Valley Center has had to use its ordinance to have a primary, she added.

As to the delay by the election office determining the need for a primary, Polian said, “There was some confusion on both the election commission and the city’s part. Some other (city) staff assumed the election office knew.

“We’ve gotten it all straightened out.”

Lehman said in her email that on Jan. 24, “I called the Valley Center Clerk and asked if they had an ordinance on the matter. I was told that they did not and that they did not want a primary.”

She said she spoke with Polian.

“I don’t understand where the confusion from the election office is coming from,” Valley Center Administrator Joel Pile said. “We sent the ordinance to them in 2009. We told them we had sent it and they said, ‘We need it again.’ I know there has been a change in election commissioners since 2009. I understand it would be a challenge (to determine which cities had created an ordinance).”

Lehman wrote in her email that her office had contacted all cities in the county where there was an election with more than two candidates and which had not sent the election office a copy of their ordinances.

From now on, a letter sent to cities before a municipal election will ask them to certify any election ordinances, she said.

Questions also arose last month over whether primaries would be needed in Wichita City Council districts 3 and 6, where three candidates are running in each race. Wichita has a city ordinance requiring a primary if more than two candidates have filed for a seat, but Lehman was unclear at first whether to follow state or city law.

She sought legal input and determined that it was correct to follow the city ordinance. She made that decision on Jan. 24, two days after the filing deadline.

As for Valley Center, Lehman said the only abnormality for voters will be using paper ballots at the polls. Her office was able to put together advance primary ballots and send them out Wednesday — the first day they could be mailed — to the 18 people who had advance ballot requests on file, she said.

Park City also will have a primary election for its City Council in Ward 2.

The general election is April 2.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or at rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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