How to salvage an election process and stay on track…
What happens when a fire district forgets to post its required filing notices for an election, or worse yet, forget about the election altogether and fails to notify the election authority until after the filing period is closed? The options in this situation aren’t great, but there is an option to keep your election on the proper April cycle so long as you act quickly within the necessary deadlines.
RSMo Chapter 115 provides most requirements for fire district elections, at least the requirements that aren’t contained in chapter 321. Under normal circumstances a fire district provides notice of an election to its election authority (the county clerk for most districts) in advance of the filing period, which opens in December. Ideally, this initial notice would be approved at the November meeting and then forwarded to the county clerk so proper legal advertisements may be handled PRIOR to the first day of filing. (*See Authors note below)
So what happens if the District manages to miss all these deadlines? All is not lost, but the District must move swiftly in order to meet a few strict deadlines. This is one of those occasions where a court order will be necessary, so reach out to your legal counsel as soon as you realize the mistake has occurred.
In order to create a new filing period for candidates and hold your election you will proceed under RSMo 115.125, filing a petition (essentially a declaratory judgment and order) must be filed in the relevant circuit court requesting the necessary actions. The order from the judge must be entered no later than the 8th Tuesday prior to the election–this is a statutory deadline from 115.125.3, and this deadline is backed up by case law as well. This is a hard deadline for the order, so you cant delay. The final date that the election authority may be notified of the candidates who have filed is actually the 6th Tuesday prior to the election. In theory, you could get a judge’s order prior to the 8th Tuesday, have a 2 week filing period, and provide final notice prior ot the 6th Tuesday, but I wouldn’t advise it.
If you will be able to meet the statutory deadlines the best course of action is to immediately, and simultaneously, notify your election authority of the need for an election using the required processes, set your new filing period and publish legal notice announcing the election, filing period, and how/where to file, and file your petition for the necessary judge’s order. This starts all the processes asap, and allows you just a minimum amount of wiggle room in case there are any hiccups along the way.
Should you find yourself in this situation I can’t stress enough–reach out to legal counsel as soon as you can for assistance. The assistance and guidance of an attorney in this situation will be well worth it.
*Authors update: After an inquiry from a reader it bears clarifying that under normal circumstances, the initial notification to the election authority I recommend in this article is a “belt and suspenders” recommendation as practical guidance. It is not a requirement under RSMo 115, just a best practice. Not every county clerk handles these matters exactly the same way, so until you have a system in place, the more contact with your election authority, the better.