Arizona centenarians and historians have no doubt been experiencing the strange feeling of déjà vu as they watched the 2000 presidential election unfold.
The 1916 Arizona gubernatorial election, between incumbent Governor George W.P. Hunt and Republican challenger Thomas Campbell, was also close and contested. The official count put Campbell ahead by a mere 30 votes out of 60,000 cast, and the Democrats demanded a recount.
In addition, there were several disputes as to whether and for whom certain votes should be counted. No chads were involved, but then as now, one of the issues was divining voter intent, and then as now, lawsuits ensued.
The ballots were designed such that voters could either vote a straight party ticket by marking an “x” in the so-designated box, or vote for each office individually by marking an “x” in the box following the name of each candidate of their choice.
Unfortunately, enough voters to matter chose to vote for the straight Democratic Party ticket and for Campbell. Presumably, their intent was to vote for all of the Democrats except Hunt, and these ballots were, in fact, counted as votes for Campbell.
Hunt’s lawyers contended that these ballots should not be counted for either man since voters are not permitted to vote for two candidates for governor.
As with the current presidential election, once the outcome was determined to be extremely close and was contested, all manner of irregularities were brought to light by both sides and were litigated.
In a precinct in Douglas, 43 ballots were found on which it was fairly obvious that someone had erased votes originally cast for Campbell and recast them for Hunt.
In Snowflake, election officials and others were accused of unlawfully assisting voters in the preparation of their ballots.
Since the original tally of the votes had given Campbell the win, he had been certified as the governor-elect by the secretary of state. On January 1, 1917, the day the new governor was supposed to take office, however, a recount and inspection of the ballots was still in progress. Campbell made an inaugural speech at the Capitol, but when he and his entourage attempted to enter the executive offices, their way was blocked by a deputy sheriff who claimed the doors were locked due to the fact that the day was a legal holiday.
The next day was not a legal holiday, but the Campbell group again was denied entrance to the offices. This time Hunt was present and handed Campbell a typewritten statement indicating that he had no intention of leaving office. Campbell did not persist, but instead set up offices in his residence, which was conveniently located at 14 N. 18th Avenue, due west of the Capitol. He also initiated legal proceedings to have Hunt removed from office.
In the meantime, Arizonans found themselves in the unusual position of having two governors. The post office dealt with it by holding all mail that was addressed to the governor without specifying which governor, and state officials such as the auditor and the treasurer dealt with it by refraining from conducting any state business that would require the signature of a chief executive.
After a few weeks of this, a divided state Supreme Court ruled that Campbell should serve as the de facto governor until the legal issues were resolved and invited Hunt to step down before they were forced to take stronger measures than issuing invitations. Hunt obliged.
On May 2, the Maricopa County Superior Court charged with settling the matter of the disputed ballots ruled in favor of Campbell. Hunt appealed to the state Supreme Court, and on December 22, the court ruled unanimously that Hunt had won the election the previous year by a plurality of 43 votes. The court seemed to feel that the whole point of designing ballots with specific instructions as to how a vote was to be indicated was to obviate the necessity of counters attempting to divine voter intent.
Since gubernatorial terms were only two years in those times, Hunt resumed the office having missed out on nearly half of the term he was finally determined to have won.
Campbell had served for that period without salary and was required to pay all costs of the inspection and recount of the ballots and all of the legal fees of both parties in the Supreme Court phase of the litigation. In addition, for the next year, he had to bear the rather inelegant title of “Ex-Governor De Facto.”
Both men went on to serve further terms as governor, but never again concurrently.
(This Times Past article was originally published on December 1, 2000.) Photos courtesy State Library and Archives; research by Gail Merten. ©Arizona Capitol Times.