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Wood County Commission to vote on canvass successors

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission is expected to vote on possible emergency interim successors to complete the election canvassing process next week.

After canvassing had to be delayed twice due to illness and a lack of an in-person quorum of county commissioners, officials began discussing the idea of appointing temporary successors to complete the canvassing process.

Wood County Commission President Blair Couch said things were moving forward to make those appointments today.

Prosecutor Pat Lefebure was supposed to contact the other commissioners to explain the process so everyone would have their possible appointments in place for a vote, Couch said, adding he has yet to talk to either of the other commissioners.

Having discussed the matter with the West Virginia County Commission Association and others, Couch believes state code gives the commission the ability to make appointments and proceed with the canvass.

“It appears to all be legal,” he said.

The agenda for today’s commission meeting says it will be a virtual meeting that will be live-streamed.

The only business item is set for 9:30 a.m. to consider appointment of emergency interim successors for canvass and certification of the Nov. 3 general election.

The canvassing was delayed the last two Mondays due to illness among county officials.

Commissioners Robert Tebay and Jimmy Colombo and County Clerk Mark Rhodes will be out for the next couple of weeks, which is starting to run into the 30-day limit the commission has to review the challenge and provisional ballots and to count the remaining absentee ballots.

When reached by phone Monday afternoon, Rhodes and Tebay said they have both tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and will expect to be quarantined for at least two weeks.

Rhodes was at home and Tebay had been treated at Marietta Memorial Hospital and went home on Monday.

Colombo had been in Camden Clark Medical Center dealing with an a-fib problem in relation to his heart, a problem he has dealt with in the past. With everything going on with he pandemic, he and his doctors were being extra careful.

He went home Monday, but will continue to limit his exposure to other people.

Both men are expecting to be able to do the majority of their commission duties in the coming days by phone.

However, state law requires the county to have two commissioners in the building during the canvass to review provisional ballots and to oversee the hand-count of three randomly picked precincts.

Last week, county officials had 142 absentee ballots to be counted, along with 388 provisionals that must be reviewed before they can be counted. Provisional ballots are where the voter had an issue where they weren’t registered to vote, moved and are voting in their new precinct but their registration has not been updated, poll workers voting where they were stationed and other issues. The commission reviews those and determines which ballots can be counted and which ones will have to be rejected.

Still to be determined by the canvass is the outcome of the Parkersburg City Council District 9 race. Republican Austin Richards led incumbent Democrat Jeff Fox by 23 votes according to the count on Election Day, but Rhodes has said there are 20 provisional ballots and eight absentees still to be counted, which could tip the balance if all but two go to Fox.

With indications two of the commissioners will be out for at least two weeks, officials were looking at options to be able to complete the needed canvassing work.

That prompted them to start looking at alternatives, including appointing emergency interim successors to the commission to be able to carry out the duty of canvassing and certifying the results.

Lefebure reviewed the code, West Virginia Code 6a-1-7, which has allowed municipalities to appoint acting mayors when the elected officials will be out of town or otherwise unavailable.

Today each commissioner, as well as Rhodes, will submit a list of three people, in order of their preference who they would want to take their place during the canvass with the commission voting today on those.

The canvass is now scheduled to occur 9 a.m. Monday once the successors are approved.

The successor’s sole purview would be to assist in canvassing the ballots, Couch said, adding they would not take over any other duties of the commissioner.

Couch would like to see people who are already “officers of the county court” for these temporary positions. That could include the Sheriff, the Circuit Clerk, the County Administrator and others. Officials also talked about the possibility of appointing a magistrate or a Circuit Court Judge to perform the duties.

Lefebure has suggested it should be people who were not on the ballot for election or people who ran unopposed.

Couch believed that political party or magisterial districts should not be an issue as the canvass will only last a short time.

“It will be one or two days, if we are lucky,” Couch said. “We will make it work.”

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com.

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