Making good on a commitment to pursue legal action if a runoff election wasn't scheduled in District 9, Councilman Peter Murphy and a group of three supporters filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County Chancery Court Thursday seeking an injunctive relief and declaratory judgment regarding certified results from the March 5 election.
Along with Murphy, the names of supporters Jessie Phillips, Lettie McIntire and Olin Ivey are listed as petitioners on the lawsuit. The document argues that as a candidate, Murphy is entitled to a runoff, and that as voters, the petitioners are entitled to cast ballots according to the final results as certified March 13.
Murphy, in his first bid for re-election, came up six votes short of Yusuf Hakeem, a former councilman for District 9. But seven write-in votes kept either candidate from scoring a simple majority, the sole requirement for being awarded victory, according to the City Charter.
Last week, commissioners with the Hamilton County Election Commission decided to scrap two of the write-in ballots, which had been left blank. The voiding of them barely gave Hakeem a majority, making him the winner.
But the certified results of the election, signed by the commission, show all seven write-in ballots. As a result, the lawsuit argues that the results as certified obligate the Election Commission to conduct a runoff election April 9.
"Thus, pursuant to the Chattanooga City Charter, Petitioner Murphy has the right to be a candidate in the Chattanooga City Council District 9 runoff election between Peter Murphy and Hakeem, the two candidates who received the highest number of votes," it reads.
The lawsuit cites past cases regarding elections that were handled in state courts, including one from 1943 that includes a ruling stating that a "county board has no authority to question certified results of election officials." It also argues that the election commissioners perform only "ministerial" duties once results are certified and cannot make decisions that determine the outcome of an election.
That authority belongs only to the courts, it says.
If the court were to rule in favor of a runoff, the election would likely take place on the second Tuesday in April.
No hearing dates have been scheduled at this time.