Texas baptized the 2014 midterms with their primary ballots this Tuesday, and now before you know it November will be here and communities around the country will cast millions of votes for elected officials at the national, state and local level. Unless they pull a Wallsburg and forget to hold an election at all.
State Rep. Jon Cox, appointed to the Utah House of Representatives last November, introduced legislation this week to ensure that makeup elections will be held if forgetful officials leave the small town of 275 bereft of ballots for the third consecutive election cycle -- as well as making sure those same officials don't serve indefinitely.
Wallsburg isn't alone; many other small towns have forgotten to hold elections throughout American history (see also momentous moments in forgetting to vote). Here is an appreciation of those towns, as well as gentle reminder to those towns to make sure they are on their game this election cycle.
In 2011, Wallsburg forgot to hold an election for their part-time town officials, and council members ended up being appointed instead. In November 2013, those officials should have been up for re-election, but, as the Salt Lake City Tribune eloquently put it, "the city employee responsible for oversight of elections brought new meaning to the job description by overlooking the election altogether." The tenure of the current mayor and council members were extended for two more years. County Clerk Brett Titcomb assured everyone that the third time will be the charm. "We will remember them in 2015. They will definitely have an election in 2015."
The Associated Press tried to reach the town's mayor for comment, but the absence of a staff at the town's empty office made that difficult. They did find Jay Hortin's father, who ventured that his son was out doing his day job, working as an electrician. Frank Hortin said his son was mayor because, "Somebody's got to do it" and that if the town managed to hold an election, "We probably wouldn't have anybody around to get elected anyway."
Ithaca, New York
In 1892, both parties forgot to file nominations for municipal elections, so none were held. The New York Times wrote that local politicians were frustrated, but residents were "rejoicing at the saving of $1,500 which the election would have cost."
Baconton, a town of 385 registered voters 60 miles north of Tallahassee, didn't even realize they forgot to hold an election in November 1997 until the former mayor called a friend to find out who won. Tim Pinson, a council member who had been serving long enough to have lived through many election cycles, told the Associated Press, "I knew we were supposed to have an election. I just didn't think. What can I tell you? We just messed up."
If the town officials had remembered to field candidates, an election probably wouldn't have happened anyway. In Georgia, towns can forego elections if candidates run unopposed, and Baconton hadn't needed an election the previous four years because of nonexistent competition.
And 1999 marked the tenth year that Ty Ty, Georgia, hadn't held an election for the same reason. Diane Hewett, a teacher who lived in Ty Ty nearly her whole life said, "I guess, pretty much, that people must be satisfied. If I were dissatisfied, I'd try to do something about it.'' The nearby town of Pulaski messed up too -- no one told them they couldn't hold elections in December, which they had been doing for years.
The 90s were not a good time for election organizers in Georgia. In 1999, DeSoto, a town of around 214 named after the discoverer of the Mississippi River, forgot to hold elections for two City Council seats. Council member Addie Cutts said,"We just forgot it, that's the only thing that happened, we just forgot it." When the secretary of state's office swooped in to schedule a special election, they realized that the town also had no documentation of their last election either.
In 1965, city officials in this town of 250 forgot to hold an election until it was too late, and the mayor and city commissioners were appointed for two more years. City Council Clerk Charles E. Wymore said, "We goofed."
The seat of town government in Sykesville in a century-old mansion that also functions as a police station, museum and office for the town's "beautification chairman." Arrested residents were often handcuffed to the fireplace. Before the town council moved into "Town House," though, local government was even more disorganized. There was no permanent office for politicians at all, and clerks needed to take paperwork home with them every night. One former council member said, "They were so disorganized they once forgot to hold an election."
In November 1909, Orlean -- a town of 500 -- also forgot to hold elections. The rest of the country was baffled by how nonchalant residents were about the whole thing. To wit, a excerpt from a column titled Indiana Arcadia that was syndicated in newspapers all over at the time:
"In all probability, you have never heard of Orlean, Ind. It is doubtful, moreover, that Orlean ever heard of you, unless you are some personage of great importance and renown, which is not likely. ...
By and by, it transpired that there was no legal city government whatever in existence, and that the election through which the same should have been provided was not only long past due, but gone to protest. 'Why,' said the mayor, who really was nothing
more than a near-mayor at the moment, 'I am not the executive head of this town. It has no head; nor has it any feet or hands. We are simply running free for all. Still, everything seems to be going along all right, and I hardly see where we have lost anything, if it is a little irregular.
What a peaceful, restful, happy place Orlean must be. so satisfied are the inhabitants thereof that they actually forget all about politics, elections, campaign pledges, and what not of that persuasion!
Another 1909 forgotten election -- in Uniontown, Kansas, -- inspired similar gushing from distant columnists: "It would be great to live in a place where everyone was satisfied with the way city affairs were conducted, where no one even thought of electing a new mayor, where the political bee buzzed in no man's bonnet."
Fort Ann, New York
In March 1932, the Post-Star in upstate New York reported that while other towns in the area voted, Fort Ann "passed the day quietly, blissfully unaware that it was the day to choose village officers. A few citizens went to the polling place in the town hall, but found the doors locked, so they went home. When finally Dr. R.E. LaGrange, mayor of the village, was reminded of the fact that it was election day, it was too late to do anything about it.
The village ended up holding a special election a month later, in which the town elected its first Democratic representatives ever. The town had record-breaking turnout, with 129 ballots cast.
In April 2005, a town of 141 residents 75 miles outside of Madison, Wisc., forgot to print ballots for its local races, which featured five unopposed candidates. Town Clerk Walter Weber said, "We screwed up." Twenty-seven voters still showed up to vote, although they were only allowed to vote in statewide elections.
Columbia, North Carolina
W.M. Laughinghouse, who was finishing up his tenth year as mayor of Columbia in 1949, said the town of 1,200 was too busy harvesting potatoes to remember to hold an election. "No one brought the matter up," he said, "and to be frank we just plain forgot about it."
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