State uncovers vote gap in Morgan County ballot count

245 votes may have not been counted by Kate Shunney West Virginia election officials uncovered a vote discrepancy in the May primary election that could mean up to 245 ballots cast in Morgan County were not counted toward that election’s vote totals. Donald Kersey with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office told The Morgan Messenger on Monday the vote gap was discovered when the Election division was doing a routine “spot check” of voter history data earlier this month. Morgan County was the only county where a discrepancy was found, he said. Voter history is record of whether a registered voter has cast a ballot in recent elections – used as a way to designate that voter is active on the voter rolls. Kersey said state law gives county clerks up to 120 days after an election to enter or report that voter history to the state. In counties, like Morgan, where poll books are still paper records, it can take clerks longer to enter the voter history. That voter listing is compared to the number of ballots cast in a county to reconcile election numbers. Kersey said Morgan County’s number of ballots and voter history didn’t add up, so the state contacted Morgan County Clerk Kim Nickles on September 7. “We had more voters than we had ballots,” said Nickles. “Voters cast ballots but those didn’t get counted.” Nickles said they believe there could be up to 245 votes than weren’t counted in May primary election. Two races could be affected by the vote gap. Those include the Republican primary race for Morgan County Commission and the Republican primary for the House of Delegates in the 89th district. In the County Commission race, sitting commissioner Bill Clark was declared the winner of the primary over G.W. Easton, with Clark getting 1,210 votes and Easton getting 1,052. Just 158 votes separated the two. In the House of Delegates race, longtime delegate Ruth Rowan (R-Hampshire) lost her party primary to Darren Thorne (Hampshire). Thorne was declared the winner with 991 votes over Rowan’s 954 votes in voting in both Morgan and Hampshire counties. In that race, 37 votes separated the two candidates. The Morgan County Commission, which canvasses the election results, will take up the issue at their meeting Wednesday, September 21. Candidates have been informed about the vote discrepancy and have been invited to attend the meeting. Kim Nickles said she has secured the “flash cards” or electronic data drives for all of the county’s voting machines from the voting machine vendor so that commissioners can direct how they want to revisit the election totals. Nickles said it is her suspicion that the ballots that were not counted were cast during early voting in the County Clerk’s office. At least one of those machines malfunctioned during the 10-day early voting period and voting machine vendors were called in to make them work. Each voting machine has its own serial number, and Nickles said her office can use that to track data. The 245 ballots were cast in multiple precincts, meaning the problem was not on a single machine in a single polling place. During early voting, each ballot cast in the clerk’s office is assigned to the precinct where the voter lives. On election night, those early votes are supposed to be added to the appropriate precinct totals, along with absentee ballot results. Kersey said it’s not uncommon for clerks to miss the step of matching up their voter history with the number of ballots cast. “This happens. It shouldn’t, but it does,” he said. It appears the uncounted ballots were simply due to a missed step, said Kersey. “If there were any allegations that this was not just a mistake, the Secretary of State’s office would get involved,” he said. Time is of the essence in finding and counting the ballots that were not included in the May primary vote totals. Absentee ballots will start being mailed out this Friday, September 23, to voters who have requested them. Clark’s and Thorne’s names are already on those ballots. If the winners of the County Commission and House of Delegates primary race change because of the counting of those 245 ballots, candidate names on the absentee ballots will have to be corrected quickly. “We’re prepared in case we need to alter the ballots that will go out,” said Kersey. Even if the ballots are found and counted and the results of the primary election do not change, it’s likely a judge will have to issue an order to decertify the primary election results. The Morgan County Commission would then have to reconvene to canvass the vote again, and report the new totals to the Secretary of State’s office for their records. The commission will take up the matter at 10:45 a.m. at their September 21 meeting.