Election Mix-Up Is Settled

BENWOOD – City Council unanimously declared Benwood Councilman Curtis Mele the winner of a 1st Ward council seat Monday following a brief hearing to decide his contest of the May 13 municipal election results.

Mele had filed for re-election and was running unopposed in the race, but his name did not appear on the ballot. The name of Benwood’s other 1st Ward council member, Chuck Terry – who was not up for re-election this year – instead went before voters.

Terry received 22 votes in the race. Mele, though, testified he was among 19 who submitted write-in votes for himself after the mistake was discovered by 3 p.m. on Election Day.

Mele’s attorney, David Jividen, on Monday presented the facts in the case to council, and also had Mele and City Clerk Judy Hunt provide testimony during the 20-minute contest hearing. Council voted 6-0 to declare Mele the winner after Benwood Solicitor Eric Gordon suggested Mele and Terry abstain from voting on the issue.

“I’m very happy with council’s decision to declare me the winner,” Mele said. “I’m also happy to put this behind me, and start serving Benwood again for the next four years.”

Terry, who still has two years remaining on his council term, asked to speak and denied having any designs on assuming Mele’s seat.

“I want it understood and on the record I am not after Curt’s votes – and never was and never will be,” he said. “Curt’s my neighbor.”

Council also could have called for a special election at taxpayer expense, or members could have appointed Mele or someone else to a two-year unexpired term on council.

But Mele believed because he had properly filed in the race and had no opposition for the four-year term, he shouldn’t have to file to run again in two years.

It is among Hunt’s duties as city clerk to oversee and organize elections in Benwood. She testified that Mele filed for re-election at 2:50 p.m. on Jan. 24, the day before the Jan. 25 deadline, and paid his $35 filing fee.

Mele’s name, though, was missing on the list when Hunt sent Benwood’s election information to the Marshall County Clerk’s Office for inclusion on the ballot. No one in Hunt’s office noticed the error when a copy of the ballot was sent back to Benwood for proofreading.

Jividen asked her if the omission of Mele’s name from the ballot had been intentional, and she replied, “Absolutely not.”

The Benwood Clerk’s Office wasn’t informed of the error until about 3 p.m. on Election Day. Mele testified that after learning of the error, he and members of his family went to vote and Mele said he cast a write-in vote for himself at that time.

Council members Mele, Larry Ferrera III, Walter Yates and Robert Rose will be sworn in to their next terms in office when council meets July 8.

Council is next scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. today at the municipal building, 430 Main St., Benwood.