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Margin of none: Council candidate Watson keeps ballot spot

Surviving a court challenge to his nominating petitions, independent City Council candidate Gary Watson will keep his name on the November ballot in Ward 3. While many of the signatures he filed were determined to be invalid, a judge found Watson ended up with 377 names on petitions — the minimum he needed to gather.

Watson will face the winner of the Democratic Party primary, which includes candidates Felicia Chew, Paul Durham and Tom Tronsdal.

Watson had filed 536 signatures at the deadline in May, but an analysis of his nominating petitions by the Pima County Recorder's Office found he was a single name short of the 377 valid signers required.

The Pima County Democratic Party moved to have him barred from the ballot, with attorney Vince Rabago suing on behalf of Ward 3 voter Sheila Yamanaka.

Watson had sought to run as a Republican, but the local party refused to back his campaign because of his support for the recently approved Proposition 101 sales tax increase to fund public safety and transportation projects.

Although his campaign is yet so nascent that Watson represented himself in court, rather than hiring an attorney, the Democrats worked to clear the decks for their eventual general election candidate.

There are no Republican or third-party candidates seeking the seat being vacated by Councilwoman Karin Uhlich.

But, while the Dems have had frequent success with ballot challenges in previous elections, Watson successfully pressed his case before Superior Court Judge Catherine Woods.

Watson, a firefighter for Northwest Fire District, found that while one of the signers of his petitions had been disqualified for having earlier signed a petition for Tronsdale, the signature on file with the Recorder's Office more closely matched the one on Watson's paperwork.

Because voters can only sign a single petition for each office, the first valid signature is the one that is counted. Due to the matching issue, Woods ruled that the signature on Tronsdale's petitions was invalid, and that Watson had just reached the minimum number of necessary signers.

Tronsdale's ballot status was unaffected. He filed 369 signatures in May, needing just 232 to earn a spot on the primary ballot.

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