May 24, 2006 - The Oro Valley Town Council election took a tumultuous turn last weekend when Councilwoman Paula Abbott gained enough votes from provisional ballots to edge out Don Cox for the third of three open seats in last week's town council election, Pima County Division of Elections reported.
The final unofficial and unaudited vote count posted May 20 showed Abbott ahead of Cox by just three votes. This puts the results within the 10-vote margin for a mandatory recount under state law.
Six candidates competed for three council seats in the May 17 election. The first two seats went to first and second place finishers KC Carter and Al Kunisch.
Vote-count results from the Oro Valley election had previously reported on May 18 that Cox had wrested the third council seat from Abbott, an incumbent, by just 18 votes.
However, election officials had not yet counted hundreds of provisional ballots and thousands of early ballots cast by voters across Pima County. Provisional ballots were cast when a voter voted at the wrong polling location, provided inadequate identification, or needed to have his or her residency within the county or Oro Valley verified, said Brad Nelson, Pima County elections director.
As of May 22, Abbott received 3,430 votes to Cox's 3,427. This puts them in third and fourth place, respectively. Finishing distantly behind them are Kathy Pastryk in fifth place and incumbent Conny Culver in sixth place.
The election was undoubtedly one of the tightest in Oro Valley history. The final unofficial results put second-place finisher Al Kunisch only 15 votes ahead of Abbott and only 27 votes behind Carter.
Cox said he was shocked by the final results when he saw them a 5 a.m. last Sunday.
"I'm obviously very disappointed," Cox said. "I was surprised she was able to overtake the lead I had built. I thought it might have gotten a little closer, but I didn't think it would change."
Still, Cox remains hopeful that he'll find some luck in the upcoming recount.
"As much as it changed in that last count, maybe it will change again," Cox said.
Town Clerk Kathy Cuvelier said the town council will canvass the vote on Thursday and also adopt a resolution allowing her to request the recount from a Pima County Superior Court Judge May 26.
"We're going to ask that the recount take place on the Tuesday after Memorial Day," Cuvelier said, meaning May 30. "After that, we'll ask a judge to certify the result the following Thursday."
Cuvelier added that the town had planned to have all this completed before June 7 so the elected and re-elected councilmembers can be sworn in at a council meeting on that date, as scheduled.
Nelson said the ballots from Oro Valley would be run through a machine once again for the recount.
"Recounts are judicial actions and are always under the full supervision of Pima County Superior Court," Nelson said.
Councilwoman Conny Culver said she is disappointed that Abbott was able to overtake Cox.
"I don't always agree with Don, but he's dedicated and dependable," Culver said. "Don would attend meetings and study sessions, and he would respond to the town as a whole and not just a select group."
As far as losing her own council seat, Culver said she would have liked to remain active in town government but won't miss the workload.
Councilman Barry Gillaspie said he didn't expect that a member of the council would be elected by such a slim margin.
"I was surprised at the closeness of the vote, and I thought turnout was fairly low," Gillaspie said.
However, Gillaspie said he welcomes Al Kunisch as a new councilmember as well as Carter and Abbott.
Carter said he has worked closely with Abbott in the past, but he mostly wants the election to be decided as quickly as possible.
John Ellinwood, president of the Oro Valley Republican Club, which endorsed Al Kunisch, Don Cox and Conny Culver for the town council, said the club had hoped to get more of its candidates on the council but is happy Kunisch will be a councilmember.
"Some people were disappointed (that Abbott got more votes than Cox), but it's a wake-up call that every vote counts," Ellinwood said. "We're happy that we got Al elected. He has a realistic vision of how to manage growth in Oro Valley."
Art Segal, an Oro Valley resident and treasurer of the now-defunct SOVOG, a political committee opposed to tax incentives for developers, said he is happy to see Abbott edge out Cox in the final unofficial election results.
"I feel the more people on the council we have that are of Abbott and Carter's mindset, the better off we will be as a town. They are the only ones who aren't indebted to anyone," Segal said.