MOUNDSVILLE - A vote canvass that should determine whether Jason ''Jake'' Padlow succeeded in his bid for re-election as a Marshall County commissioner continued late into the night Tuesday with no result.
At press time officials were still examining provisional ballots. They plan to meet at 4 p.m. today to tabulate final results.
Padlow said the integrity of the election was compromised when County Clerk Jan Pest and her staff late last week discovered an error in the unofficial report released Nov. 6. It was determined 2,912 absentee and early votes had been overlooked as election night totals were reported.
Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough
Marshall County Commissioner Brian Schambach, left, county Clerk Jan Pest and Commissioner Don Mason open ballots from two randomly selected precincts for hand counting during Tuesday’s canvass. Looking on in the background is lawyer George Sidiropolis.
The Nov. 6 results, which included only ballots cast on Election Day, showed the Democrat Padlow leading by 61 votes, 4,797 to 4,736 over Republican Robert Miller Jr. Padlow was notified of his anticipated loss on Saturday. The commission race was the only question on the ballot to see its results change as a result of the error.
Set to begin at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the canvass was convened then immediately recessed until noon so Prosecutor Jeff Cramer could be present. Cramer had a prior obligation to attend grand jury proceedings in circuit court Tuesday morning. At their conclusion, Cramer reported to the canvass to act as counsel for the county commission. He remained on hand throughout the afternoon and evening as two precincts were counted by hand and while 165 provisional ballots and 14 additional early votes were addressed.
As Padlow announced he would recuse himself from the canvass, he questioned how nearly 3,000 ballots could have been left out of the vote total announced on election night.
''I feel bad for everyone involved ... '' Padlow said, wondering aloud how anyone should respond to news of such a mistake. ''Sorry isn't good enough, Ms. Pest, not for me and not for the voters of Marshall County.''
Pest replied that the early and absentee ballots had been counted on Nov. 6 - but that total wasn't added to the votes cast on Election Day.
Cramer then advised Pest and the county commissioners that the questions they were debating would be better addressed in an official contest of election results. He said the canvass should be completed; then, he said, anyone who believed they were aggrieved by the process could take their case to court.
Padlow had questioned whether seals on ballot bags had been broken Saturday without county commissioners, ballot commissioners or the prosecutor present. Pest confirmed that seals on bags containing PEBs, or personal electronic ballots, for each precinct in the county had been broken so ''flash card'' memory from voting machines could be retrieved from them.
Separate bags containing the rolls of paper that record each keystroke made on a voting machine were brought to the commission room with their seals still in place as the canvass started Tuesday. Timothy G. Leach, assistant general counsel for the West Virginia Office of the Secretary of State who was present for the canvass, said this ''paper trail'' is considered to be the official record of the vote.
''As far as I can tell, the actual vote was sealed,'' Leach said outside the commission chamber.
Leach declined to comment on whether Pest's decision to break the PEB seals without any commissioners, ballot commissioners or the prosecutor present was ''standard procedure,'' as Pest had asserted.
''We're here to try and figure out if any missteps were made and to figure out what we can do about it,'' Leach said regarding the role of the secretary of state's office Tuesday. ''We can't rule an election valid or invalid. ... A circuit court decides election contests.''
Pest later said the PEB seals were broken Friday with her entire staff and members of the public present. She said her office always runs an additional election report prior to the canvass, and when this was done workers noticed a discrepancy between the report generated Friday and the totals announced Nov. 6.
She said Commissioner Don Mason had granted her access to the PEB bags so the report could be run Friday. When her staff couldn't resolve the discrepancy Friday, she and Deputy Clerk Winnie Reilly decided to return to the office Saturday and seek support from Casto & Harris, a company that provides technical support related to voting machines. That is why they were in the office alone when Padlow was notified of the new result, she said.
''The report we handed out (Nov. 6) is a report we do out of courtesy to the public, it's not required,'' she said. ''It just happened that this one wasn't complete.
Pest also addressed Padlow's Tuesday request for an ''inventory'' of all bags containing votes and PEBs and their seals. She said no special steps to log an inventory were taken during the canvass.
''We didn't deviate from our regular way of doing it,'' she added. ''If after 12 years of Jake being a commissioner he doesn't know how we do things, shame on him.''
Leach also indicated the canvass was a typical one, noting he was unsure what Padlow was seeking when he requested the inventory.
Weirton attorney Dan Guida, representing Padlow, said he and his client contend the integrity of the election was compromised when sealed bags containing voting information were opened prior to the canvass and without what they believe is proper supervision. He noted all candidates have 48 hours following a canvass to request a recount, followed by an opportunity to contest the election in court.
Attorney George Sidiropolis, representing his brother David Sidiropolis who failed to win a seat in the House of Delegates on Nov. 6, asked to see and record the numbers listed on the seals as they were removed from the bags Tuesday. As George Sidiropolis persisted in questioning county officials, Commissioner Brian Schambach approached him. An exchange between the two became contentious, with Schambach apparently touching Sidiropolis on the arm as he tried to make a point.
''This is an assault,'' Sidiropolis said. ''Don't touch me.''
Pest continued to address the questions raised by Sidiropolis. When she had finished, Mason - acting as commission president after Padlow stepped aside - told Sidiropolis the canvass would proceed and that he would need to wait until its conclusion to further question the proceedings. The lawyer returned to the commission chamber that evening and submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the election results to Pest.
Election night totals indicated David Sidiropolis, a Democrat, captured 5,161 votes but lost his bid for election to one of two open seats to incumbent Democrat Mike Ferro with 6,898 and Republican David Evans with 5,402.
A hand count of two precincts - 5 percent of the county's 45 precincts - was conducted. Its results were required to match results from election night within 1 percent before the commission could address provisional ballots. If the results had differed by a larger margin, officials would have been required to count all 45 precincts by hand. Officials hand-counted 14,362 votes - not ballots - and the total was within 0.97 percent of the machine count - within the parameters required.