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Kersey

CHARLES TOWN — Not counting four provisional ballots that were cast during Harpers Ferry’s municipal election in June would be unprecedented, according to an attorney from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

“There are 231 precincts in West Virginia, and 230 would have handled this situation differently from the way this one was handled,” attorney Donald Kersey told Jefferson County Circuit Judge Debra McLaughlin, who heard oral testimony on Monday as part of an appeal filed by two candidates who came up short in their bids to win seats on the five-person town council.

The appeal from Nancy Case and Deborah McGee seeks to overturn a ruling from the town council that prevented four ballots from being counted in the June 11 election, which has largely been viewed as a referendum on the fate of the Hill Top Hotel project.

McLaughlin said she expects to issue a decision on the appeal later this week.

In a courtroom filled with intent spectators, McLaughlin heard testimony from attorneys representing four perspectives on the question of whether the four voters were “duly registered” voters and “bona fide” residents of Harpers Ferry on the day of the election.

“I have my own questions on things,” she offered early on, adding that she had reviewed all the written briefings and record of facts in the case.

One of the disputed ballots was cast by a woman who had been certified to run as a town council candidate.

Leah Howell, who withdrew from the race after the deadline to remove her name from the ballot, was granted 15 official votes.

Nevertheless, after two hearings, a 4-2 majority of town officials set aside Howell’s ballot and those of three other voters. Those officials — Mayor Wayne Bishop and council members Hardy Johnson, Charlotte Thompson and Barbara Humes — ruled last month that clerical address errors that assigned those Washington Street residents to the wrong voting precinct made those voters ineligible to vote in Harpers Ferry’s election.

In his remarks, Kersey said state law clearly directs municipal officials to overlook such errors when determining whether someone is eligible to vote in their elections. He said West Virginia’s adoption of a centralized voter registration database in 2004 was meant to avoid multiple lists and registration requirements that could confuse both voters and election officials.

“Once that [voter] registration is accepted by the county clerk’s office, you are a registered voter,” he said.

That means a registered voter is automatically eligible to vote in any federal, state, county or municipal election relevant to where he or she lives, he added.

To be eligible to vote in any municipal election, a person must reside in the town or city for at least 30 days before the election and be registered as a voter at least 21 days before the election, Kersey said.

Attorney Ryan Donovan, who is representing Bishop and the three current council members, urged McLaughlin to consider only facts and evidence formally presented during a town tribunal hearing on Aug. 24.  

“Trials have consequences,” he told the judge. “I will concede there are some tricky legal issues.”

Donovan argued no evidence was presented during the tribunal that Howell — who did not appear at the tribunal — was a resident of Harpers Ferry on Election Day. He did not address statements or evidence presented during the tribunal by the three other voters who cast provisional ballots.

McLaughlin countered that the record shows that one of those voters that Donovan did not mention had registered as a voter with a Harpers Ferry address, though the motor vehicles office assigned her a West Washington Street address for Bolivar.

“She was a duly registered voter in West Virginia,” McLaughlin said.By TIM COOK

Staff writer

CHARLES TOWN — Not counting four provisional ballots that were cast during Harpers Ferry’s municipal election in June would be unprecedented, according to an attorney from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

“There are 231 precincts in West Virginia, and 230 would have handled this situation differently from the way this one was handled,” attorney Donald Kersey told Jefferson County Circuit Judge Debra McLaughlin, who heard oral testimony on Monday as part of an appeal filed by two candidates who came up short in their bids to win seats on the five-person town council.

The appeal from Nancy Case and Deborah McGee seeks to overturn a ruling from the town council that prevented four ballots from being counted in the June 11 election, which has largely been viewed as a referendum on the fate of the Hill Top Hotel project.

McLaughlin said she expects to issue a decision on the appeal later this week.

In a courtroom filled with intent spectators, McLaughlin heard testimony from attorneys representing four perspectives on the question of whether the four voters were “duly registered” voters and “bona fide” residents of Harpers Ferry on the day of the election.

“I have my own questions on things,” she offered early on, adding that she had reviewed all the written briefings and record of facts in the case.

One of the disputed ballots was cast by a woman who had been certified to run as a town council candidate.

Leah Howell, who withdrew from the race after the deadline to remove her name from the ballot, was granted 15 official votes.

Nevertheless, after two hearings, a 4-2 majority of town officials set aside Howell’s ballot and those of three other voters. Those officials — Mayor Wayne Bishop and council members Hardy Johnson, Charlotte Thompson and Barbara Humes — ruled last month that clerical address errors that assigned those Washington Street residents to the wrong voting precinct made those voters ineligible to vote in Harpers Ferry’s election.

In his remarks, Kersey said state law clearly directs municipal officials to overlook such errors when determining whether someone is eligible to vote in their elections. He said West Virginia’s adoption of a centralized voter registration database in 2004 was meant to avoid multiple lists and registration requirements that could confuse both voters and election officials.

“Once that [voter] registration is accepted by the county clerk’s office, you are a registered voter,” he said.

That means a registered voter is automatically eligible to vote in any federal, state, county or municipal election relevant to where he or she lives, he added.

To be eligible to vote in any municipal election, a person must reside in the town or city for at least 30 days before the election and be registered as a voter at least 21 days before the election, Kersey said.

Attorney Ryan Donovan, who is representing Bishop and the three current council members, urged McLaughlin to consider only facts and evidence formally presented during a town tribunal hearing on Aug. 24.  

“Trials have consequences,” he told the judge. “I will concede there are some tricky legal issues.”

Donovan argued no evidence was presented during the tribunal that Howell — who did not appear at the tribunal — was a resident of Harpers Ferry on Election Day. He did not address statements or evidence presented during the tribunal by the three other voters who cast provisional ballots.

McLaughlin countered that the record shows that one of those voters that Donovan did not mention had registered as a voter with a Harpers Ferry address, though the motor vehicles office assigned her a West Washington Street address for Bolivar.

“She was a duly registered voter in West Virginia,” McLaughlin said.

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