CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Secretary of State and Attorney General are weighing into an election dispute that has been going on for months in a town of under 300 people.
Just a few votes separated the candidates for Town Council in Harpers Ferry when results came in after the June 11 municipal election. Five council positions were up for grabs. Initially, the results showed five incumbents were the top vote getters.
The top candidate got 90 votes and the fifth candidate got 83.
The candidates initially in sixth and seventh place got 82 and 81 votes.
Those candidates, Nancy Case and Deborah McGee, have been challenging the results ever since.
In particular, they are contesting rulings that four provisional ballots would not be counted.
Those ballots were initially considered to be cast by voters who lived outside the municipal limits. But Case and McGee contend those voters were mistakenly listed in the nearby Bolivar voting district, not Harpers Ferry.
That happened, they contend, because of an error that occurred when the four residents registered to vote through the state Division of Motor Vehicles. The mistake placed their home addresses outside the municipality.
The Harpers Ferry Board of Canvassers first took a look at the ballots and declined to count them. Case and McGee then appealed to Harpers Ferry Town Council, serving as an election tribunal. That meant two of the incumbents who could lose their seats heard the appeal.
The Council voted to leave the disputed ballots uncounted, with the town recorder and a councilman dissenting and contending that the situation was being guided by “conflict of interest and political gaming.”
So the two candidates took their case to circuit court in Jefferson County. Judge Debra McLaughlin is scheduled to hear the case Oct. 28.
Charleston lawyers Zak Ritchie and Ryan Donovan represent Harpers Ferry councilmembers Hardy Johnson, Barbara Humes, Charlotte Thompson and former council member Midge Yost.
“There’s more to this case than meets the eye. It’s important to understand that there was a trial, and that the evidence that was put on at trial was very different than the facts presented in the losing candidates’ appeal brief,” Ritchie stated.
“Our clients are genuine public servants who followed the law at every stage. They followed the law by not counting the ballots of voters without proper registration, and they followed the law by not recusing themselves when doing so would have left the losing candidates without any legal forum at all. We’re confident that the Circuit Court will agree on appeal.”
The Secretary of State has filed a motion aimed at taking a position in the case. The motion was filed by the Attorney General’s Office, which handles legal cases for the state. So that’s why Warner and Morrisey were speaking together about the situation.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 18, 2019
“We have deep concerns about the process,” Morrisey said on “Talkline. “It is highly problematic, especially because it’s used to disenfranchise voters.”
The motion contends that the incorrect address of a voter’s home is clearly a technical issue and that the votes should be valid. The motion contends the votes should be counted.
“Votes should not be dismissed because of a technical error, and this is a technical error,” Warner said.
Morrisey said there is one acceptable resolution.
“Count the votes and make sure technical errors aren’t used to deny someone the right to vote,” he said. “I think it’s clear the Council erred, and that needs to be changed.”
Story by Brad McElhinny