HARPERS FERRY – The formal judicial go-ahead to count the votes could arrive here any day now.
After more than a year of irresolution and waiting on procedural hearings and court decisions, Kevin Carden, Harper Ferry’s elected recorder and the supervisor for the town’s elections, said he’s been preparing for the occasion.
“I’ve been in contact with the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “They’re going to deliver the ballots directly to us when we conduct the count.”
The West Virginia Supreme Court settled the matter June 15 when it issued a 4-0 opinion upholding an earlier Jefferson County Circuit Court order to count the votes on four provisional ballots that have been set aside and left unopened since the town’s election last June.
Circuit Court Judge Debra McLaughlin will reissue an order in keeping with the Supreme Court’s opinion. Her order to direct town officials to open the sealed provisional ballots and count whatever votes are on them could come with specific or general instructions.
The judge’s order could set a specific deadline to count the votes, Carden said. Her order could impose other requirements too, he said.
Registered town residents could cast up to five votes for council members. Six Town Council candidates who have a mathematical chance of either taking over or retaining a council seat—including a chance to win a possible vote tie-breaking process—based on the potential votes that could appear on the four provisional ballots.
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, Carden said.
When McLaughlin’s order is delivered, the town’s officials will meet as the board of canvassers to officially count the votes, Carden said. Two deputies will deliver an evidence bag containing the four provisional ballots that have been locked in the Sheriff’s Office’s evidence room for months, he said.
The deputies will stay to monitor the process to open an evidence bag and identify the ballots, Carden said. A representative from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office also plans to attend to witness the vote counting as well, he said.
Before the votes are counted, the four provisional ballots now in sealed and labeled envelops will be opened and then shuffled, Carden said. Shuffling the ballots will maintain the secrecy of which candidates the voters might have voted for, Carden said.
Carden explained that six provisional ballots were set aside during the municipal election, but only four of those ballots were made part of the legal actions to compel town officials to count their votes. Two provisional ballots were considered invalid by all of the town officials shortly after the election, he said.
If any new person or people win a seat on the council as a result of the vote counts, they will be immediately sworn in as a town official, Carden said.