The Ocean Pines Board of Directors has a choice, as ballot counting begins. It can direct election officials to record every vote cast, or order it to restrict the count to candidates the board has recognized as legitimate and wait to see if the Worcester County Circuit Court agrees.
That’s about the sum of Judge Sidney Campen’s decision Monday, when he refused to extend a stay on the election process requested by plaintiff Rick Farr, whose candidacy was declared void by the board of directors in July.
At issue, as most everyone knows by now, is whether Farr’s membership in a real estate trust constitutes property ownership for election qualification purposes.
Campen told the parties in Farr v. the Ocean Pines Board of Directors he would decide that matter at a hearing later this month, but in the meantime the vote count could proceed.
He left it to the board to decide how that should be handled, but the choices it faces aren’t that simple.
If the board sticks with its position that Farr is not a candidate, and doesn’t record the votes cast for him, it still can’t announce the winners with any certainty. The judge, after all, could decide in Farr’s favor. If he does, votes for Farr would have to be added to the total, with the possibility of a different outcome hanging in the balance.
Another scenario is that the Elections Committee could count all the ballots, with Farr doing well enough to win a seat, but the judge decides against him. That’s going to be awkward for anyone who trailed him but won by default. Further, although the board might be vindicated by the court, some animosity toward the directors by Farr supporters would be inevitable.
No matter what the board decides to do, it will be something of a gamble, so it might as well go all in and do a complete vote count. If it declares votes for Farr are provisional ballots, subject to the court’s decision, so be it. But at least the public will know the full score, which is the most important aspect of any election.
Besides, Farr could lose the race anyway, making this case — aside from the need to resolve the conflict between the bylaws and declarations of restrictions — a moot point.