MOUNDSVILLE - A recount to determine the winner of a race for a Marshall County Commission seat takes place Tuesday - and it could be a precursor to legal action in the disputed contest.
The vote canvass held Nov. 13-14 indicates incumbent Democrat Jason "Jake" Padlow lost his seat to Republican Robert Miller Jr. by 70 votes, or 0.56 percent of the total 12,366. Unofficial results announced on election night, Nov. 6, showed Padlow with a 61-vote lead. A few days later, however, county Clerk Jan Pest said the 4,797-4,736 tally in Padlow's favor included only ballots cast on Election Day - 2,912 early and absentee votes had been overlooked.
Padlow recused himself from the canvass after the error was discovered, and subsequently requested an electronic recount in the race. Commissioner Brian Schambach, however, said state law requires the county to count 5 percent of its 45 precincts by hand. He said the process will be similar to the canvass, but this time teams of four people - two Democrats and two Republicans - will hand count the votes from two randomly selected precincts. During the canvass, two-person teams were used.
"First we are required to do the 5 percent hand count. ... Then we will do the computer recount, all in all probably eight hours, if we're lucky," Schambach said.
The total cost of the recount, which will take place at 1 p.m. at the courthouse, will depend on how much work Pest's employees have to complete.
Padlow and Miller each paid a $300 bond for the recount. Pest said if changes are found during the recount, the county pays for the process; if the total is unchanged, Padlow pays for it. Following the canvass, Padlow had 6,148 votes, and Miller had 6,218.
Despite the error and the pending recount, Miller has said he has "faith in the system."
"Every indication I have gotten is that I have won this race ... " Miller said after the recount was requested. "I guess we will just have to work through the process to see how it ends up."
Pest believes Padlow intends to contest the election in court. She said recount must be done before the result can be contested. Neither Padlow nor his attorney, Dan Guida of Weirton, could be reached for comment. But Padlow previously questioned whether Pest followed proper procedures after finding the error.
"The system has been compromised by somebody going into that office and breaking a seal on a bag without any presence of any election official there," he said after learning of the apparent change in the result. "The whole election probably should be thrown out."
Pest confirmed during the canvass that seals on bags containing PEBs, or personal electronic ballots, from each precinct had been broken with her staff and the public present on Nov. 9. She said this was "standard procedure," as her staff is required to run an additional election report prior to the canvass, which was held Nov. 13-14.
Pest and Schambach provided additional information outlining the entire election process. It states the voting machines are closed at the polls and the votes uploaded to the PEBs and memory flash cards they contain, as well as to an internal chip. The machines are returned to the courthouse on election night and set up before paper rolls and flash cards are removed and put in bags. The paper rolls - the official record of the vote - are placed in bags that are sealed and placed in a locked room until the canvass. The flash cards are put in a bag and added to the PEB transport bag before the PEBs are read into a supervisor terminal. The paper tape from that terminal is added to the transport bag and taken to the counting center in the record room.
When equipment from the first precinct arrives at the courthouse, Pest's staff loads the flash cards from early and absentee voting into the computer system. That allows absentee and early votes to be automatically added to the PEB totals. An automatic report is generated for each precinct. Certification teams - consisting of one Democrat and one Republican - compare the tape from the supervisor and the Statement of Ballots from the precinct to prove that the ballots cast and the public count from the PEB match. Paperwork from each precinct is then given to a Republican/Democrat write-in team that checks the tape from the PEB for valid write-ins and tallies them.
PEB transport bags are sealed after the PEBs have been processed in the computer and packed into supply bags. These are locked up until Phase 3 of the process, reloading the election from the flash cards. A third test of the system is required between the end of election tabulating and the canvass. It is the same test done for the public one week prior to the election and the same as one done on election night prior to the count. Since the test is not considered a tabulation by the West Virginia Secretary of State's office, Pest said, county commissioners were not required to be present. Pest said her office has followed this process since the IVOtronic system was implemented in Marshall County.