By Mary Thurwachter
When it comes to election law, or any law for that matter, the more precise the language, the better. Crystal clear is best.
So says Max Lohman, Lantana’s town attorney, who ought to know.
“I have the dubious distinction of probably litigating more election lawsuits in the last two or three years than nearly any other attorney in Palm Beach County,” Lohman told the Town Council on Jan. 11. He advised the city to tweak its election law to avoid lawsuits or runoff elections, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The Town Council approved these two tweaks: adding a subsection related to the regulation of invalid votes cast for a candidate who has died, withdrawn or is ineligible for having been arrested for or charged with a felony; changing the word “petition” to “petitions.”
The second change came about because of a Lantana litigation last year after one candidate failed to file all his petitions. Candidates need to obtain signatures via the petition process to have their names on the ballot.
“During the lead-up to last year’s council election we had an issue with petitions and qualifications, and we ended up in litigation because our code used to say petition instead of petitions,” Lohman said. “We needed to change that to make it crystal clear what paperwork is required for the candidates.”
The other change stemmed from a lawsuit in Palm Beach Gardens, a municipality Lohman also represents. The suit was precipitated because of a withdrawn candidate, he explained.
“Back then, Palm Beach Gardens required a majority of votes to win, just like we do here still. After the ballot was printed, one of the three candidates withdrew and said he didn’t want to be elected.
“We posted signs at polling locations, we tried to inform people that this person was not running, they cannot take office if someone votes for him, yet miraculously 1,100 people still cast their votes” for that person, Lohman said. “This precipitated a lawsuit over whether those votes should be counted in the total. If the votes were counted, nobody got a majority and so then you have to have a runoff,” which the city avoided.
By Mary Thurwachter