HARPERS FERRY – To follow through on a long-pursued judge’s order, Harpers Ferry’s elected officials have scheduled to gather tonight [Wednesday, July 29] at 7 p.m. as an election Board of Canvassers to officially count the votes on four previously contested ballots cast in the town’s last election on June 11, 2019.
The election canvass will take place at the Stephen T. Mather Center in Harpers Ferry. The number of people permitted to attend the vote count in person is being limited to 25 due to coronavirus social-distancing safety precautions. However, the event will be transmitted live over the town’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/harpersferry.
The votes on the four provisional ballots, which a majority of town officials have opposed counting for more than a year, could determine which candidates serve in as many as three of five Town Council seats. The vote outcome could also determine the course of events in the town’s affairs, possibly including the proposed $140 million redevelopment Hill Top House Hotel property.
Six Town Council candidates have a mathematical chance of either assuming over or retaining a council seat, including a chance to win a possible vote tie-breaking process.
Town residents could vote for up to five of nine council candidates. Tie-vote totals are possible in the council races, and those will be resolved by a coin toss or some other chance resolution as required by state law, according to Harpers Ferry Recorder Kevin Carden, who serves as the town’s election supervisor.
Any newly elected council members decided from Wednesday evening’s vote count will be sworn in at the canvass if they attend, Carden said.
After a series of election hearings, reviews and appeals, the West Virginia Supreme Court last month upheld an order by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Debra McLaughlin to count the vote on the four provisional ballots.
Six provisional ballots were cast during the municipal election, but only four were challenged as ballots cast by duly qualified registered town residents.
All of the Harpers Ferry residents who cast the four provisional ballots had their Washington Street addresses incorrectly recorded at the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles office in Kearneysville. The address errors occurred when the residents applied for driver’s licenses and registered to vote.
The errors caused the residents to be mistakenly assigned to the polling precinct for the neighboring town of Bolivar. That, in turn, caused the residents to be incorrectly left out of the town’s polling book for the election.
A one-vote majority of town officials—including current council members Hardy Johnson and Charlotte Thompson, who disregarded a West Virginia Ethics Commission opinion to avoid participating in the town’s election decisions—violated state election law by failing to overlook the state DMV’s address errors, according to McLaughlin, the Supreme Court and Secretary of State Mac Warner.