Election results unchanged as officials canvass ballots

Wood County Commissioners Steve Gainer, Bob Tebay and Blair Couch work with county employees Angi Graham and Melody Ross on canvassing 383 provisional ballots as the commission approved the final election results on Monday. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — The outcome of various election races remain unchanged Monday as the Wood County Commission declared the election results as official.

The county commissioners conducted the canvassing of the election results on Monday, reviewing and counting approved provisional ballots, adding any remaining qualified absentee ballots and having election personnel do a hand count of the results from three randomly selected voting precincts.

Out of 383 provisional ballots reviewed, the commission approved 252 ballots to be counted, County Clerk Mark Rhodes said. Also, an additional 36 absentee were added to the totals.

In the Parkersburg City Council District 4 race, Democrat Eric Barber led Republican John Sandy by 12 votes in the unofficial count following the election on Nov. 8t. After the provisional and remaining absentee ballots were counted, Barber’s lead was reduced to six votes.

Rhodes said the fifth position in the North Hills city council race was close by a couple of votes as was the race for the third seat in the House of Delegates 10th District which had a difference of 52 votes.

“They didn’t change anything,” Rhodes said of the provisional ballots and the absentee ballots counted Monday.

Of the provisional ballots, many involved people who had moved, had a change of address from what was on the records and went to the right precinct to vote. Those ballots were counted and added to the totals.

Other reasons on why a ballot was not accepted was a person was voting out of their area, a person’s voter registration was canceled for having not voted in the last two federal elections and someone was not registered to vote locally or statewide. The clerk’s office received a number of absentee ballots that were postmarked after the Nov. 8 deadline and were not counted.

Commissioner Blair Couch said the commission is guided by state code in a lot of regards and the commission is given some degree of discretion on others.

“If someone voted in the wrong precinct but the ballot was the same for both, we are going to fall on the side of let’s count their vote,” he said. “If someone hasn’t voted in the last two federal elections, state code says they can’t be counted.

“They originally did that to make sure deceased and people who have moved out of the area would be pulled off the rolls.”

People would have been sent a letter telling them and request they update their voter registration.

“Unfortunately, people may disregard it or don’t understand it,” he said. “You don’t want to disenfranchise a voter.

“I hate to tell anyone their vote isn’t going to count because they decided that this election was important to them (but they did nothing to update their voter registration beforehand).”

However, there are rules in place to stop people not eligible to vote in certain races from voting in them, Couch said, adding they also cannot limit a ballot to just federal and state issues that everyone votes on from the local issues. Many city races can be tight, with only a handful of votes separating the winners and losers.

If people are concerned about their status, they can call the Wood County Clerk’s office to find out and update their voter registration so they will be ready for the next election.

“If you lived in Morgantown and were registered there and then moved to Parkersburg, you don’t automatically change,” Couch said. “There has to be something proactive on your part.”

As the commission reviewed the ballots on Monday, they tried to remain consistent with what they allowed for and what they did not.

“As long as we are consistent, I don’t think anyone can really challenge our canvass,” Couch said.

In the hand count, officials take the paper printout and count the votes cast on it and it has to match back to the computer total within one percent which usually involves the provisional ballots being cast, Rhodes said.

“It is a tough day for many,” Couch said. “This process really counts on having Republicans and Democrats be involved to make sure the votes are counted correctly.

“If there are any irregularities, we want to make sure we identify them.”

The commission declared the results at 5:39 p.m. Monday. People now have 48 hours to ask for a recount. If there are none, the results will then be certified.

Anyone wanting a recount has to put up a $300 bond with the clerk’s office to get started.

Sunday hunting will go into effect after the results are certified, Rhodes said.

“It can go into effect this Sunday (Nov. 20),” he said.

In the Parkersburg City Council District 4 race, Sandy said he will accept the final count as is and will not ask for a recount.

“They elected him, they should have him,” Sandy said. “It would not be worth doing it.”

Barber admitted to being nervous about the canvassing process. With Donald Trump running for President as a Republican, there would be more Republicans coming out to the polls and voting for Republican candidates, like his opponent.

“I had concerns, but I am glad it went this direction,” he said.

Barber said he has seen a few local races over the years that were decided by only a few votes.

“Six votes is extremely close,” he said. “This was probably the closest race in this election.”