The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Opinion

August 22, 2010

Get it right

— When will they ever learn?

A more pertinent question may be: Where is the outrage?

In Lincoln County — where else? — a judge overturned one result from the May Democratic primary and ruled on another after an unusually high number of absentee ballots tilted outcomes toward two candidates who would have lost otherwise.

One of those two, incumbent county commissioner Thomas Ramey Jr., prevailed anyway when Raleigh County Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick, who was appointed to hear the case, ruled that challenger Phoebe Harless was ineligible to run because she lived in the same magisterial district as another commissioner.

In the other race, Kirkpatrick threw out 309 absentee ballots, giving the victory in the circuit clerk’s race to incumbent Charles Brumfield over Jerry Bowman, the current county sheriff who was the apparent winner when the absentee ballots were counted.

It seems Lincoln County has trouble doing things the right way when it comes to elections. Five years ago, Circuit Clerk Greg Stowers and Assessor Jerry Weaver went to prison for vote-buying.

It gives West Virginia a black eye.

It would be one thing if officials had been blind-sided by the latest shenanigans. But according to Charleston attorney Harvey Peyton, who represented Harless and Brumfield, warning signs were visible early, but no one bothered to intervene.

“This couldn’t have happened had any number of people along the food chain, who had the responsibility to do their jobs, done their jobs,” Peyton told West Virginia MetroNews.

He said the Lincoln County clerk should have known something was amiss when absentee ballot requests were four times higher than in any previous election, that the secretary of state’s office should have gone to Lincoln County to review the absentee applications and that the governor could have sent state troopers to look at a questionable ballot box on primary day.

“Mediocrity is just what we accept,” he said. “Mediocrity and denial of responsibility is what we’ve accepted for too long.”

Peyton said more than 200 absentee ballot requests were filled out in part or in whole by someone other than the voter, and that another 100-plus absentee voters gave challengeable reasons for wanting to vote absentee.

But the outrage shouldn’t end there. Judge Kirkpatrick said some of the rules governing absentee voting are unclear.

Where have we heard that before? It took a special session of the Legislature just last month to fix conflicts in state law over the succession process following the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, conflicts that surfaced in the mid-1990s but were not addressed.

And already there is discussion about possible problems with the gubernatorial succession law that may need to be addressed if Gov. Joe Manchin wins the U.S. Senate seat in November and state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin becomes acting governor.

How many times must we go through this? It appears, almost literally, that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

It’s time to get it right, once and for all.

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