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Wood County completes canvass with aid from Caretaker Commissioners

Attorney Rob Tebay, from left, acting as a Caretaker Commissioner, goes through the county canvassing process Monday, reviewing challenge ballots from the Nov. 3 election with Wood County Deputy Clerks Barbara Johnstone and Elizabeth Beary and Wood County Commission President Blair Couch. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — Wood County officials placed two Caretaker Commissioners on Monday to finish the canvassing process and certify the election results from the Nov. 3 election.

The work was completed by 3:30 p.m. Monday with no changes to any of the election outcomes.

Due to illness and health concerns over the last couple of weeks, Wood County Commissioners Bob Tebay and Jimmy Colombo were unable to attend the scheduled canvassing sessions on Nov. 9 and 16.

The commission decided, by a teleconferenced meeting last week, to appoint emergency interim successors, known as Caretaker Commissioners, to be on-hand in person, finish the review of the provisional/challenged ballots and oversee the hand-count of three randomly picked precincts. Each commissioner submitted names that were approved.

Wood County Commission President Blair Couch swore in local attorney Rob Tebay, the son of county commissioner Bob Tebay, after 9 a.m. and they got to work reviewing provisional/challenged ballots.

Wood County 911 Director Rick Woodyard, acting as a Caretaker Commissioner, goes through the county canvassing process Monday with Deputy County Clerk Elizabeth Beary in preparing approved challenged ballots to be counted and added to the total count as well as eventually signing to certify the county’s election results. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

During the process, Tebay asked a variety of questions about how the challenged ballots were handled, what was the criteria that made them challenged ballots, the review process to match signatures from what was signed on the challenge ballot forms with what is in on file in the County Clerk’s Office; residency concerns with people who live along a county line or city limit line; how officials knew someone did not vote an absentee ballot and then tried to vote in person; and other concerns.

He and Couch were able to complete that work.

Wood County 911 Director Rick Woodyard was sworn in after 11 a.m. as a Caretaker Commissioner to fill in for Colombo. He was not able to make it in at 9 a.m. due to another concern. He was on-hand to help get the ballots ready to be counted and was able to sign off to certify the results when the counts were finished.

Elaine Tuckwiller, an Election Specialist from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, was also on-hand to observe.

Bob Tebay, as well as Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes, had tested positive for COVID-19 last week and were isolating. Colombo was dealing with an a-fib issue with his heart and because of the pandemic was isolating.

Wood County 911 Director Rick Woodyard, left, is sworn in Monday by Wood County Commission President Blair Couch as an emergency interim successor, known as a Caretaker Commissioner, to finish the canvassing process for the Nov. 3 election and certify the election results. The county had to appoint the Caretaker Commissioners to finish the canvassing process as two of the county’s three commissioners were unavailable due to illness. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

Rhodes had deputy clerks on hand to oversee everything and sign-off on the appropriate paperwork.

Both Rob Tebay and Woodyard were impressed with how county employees carried out the duties of finalizing the election count.

“It is always encouraging to see the professionalism of the staff here at the county, especially the Wood County Clerk’s Office and the people who work the election,” Rob Tebay said. “They worked diligently on it.

“You can tell they take their job very seriously. I am proud of them.”

He asked a lot of questions to understand what was happening and to make good decisions.

Wood County Commission President Blair Couch, left, swears in attorney Rob Tebay as an emergency interim successor, known as a Caretaker Commissioner, on Monday to finish the canvassing process for the Nov. 3 election as two county commissioners were unavailable due to illness. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

“I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he said.

Woodyard agreed with Rob Tebay on the professionalism of the county workers. He has been with the county 44 years and never got to see the canvassing process, including having poll workers break up into three separate groups to conduct the hand-count.

“With the sheriff’s office, we were always aware of canvassing, but I didn’t realize how tedious it was and how everyone worked together,” he said. “It is an interesting process to see how all of this came together.”

Couch said county officials found a section of state code that allowed the commission to make these temporary appointments in order to finish the canvassing process.

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. This prompted the appointment of the Caretaker Commissioners under a part of state code that has allowed municipalities to appoint temporary mayors if the elected official was out of town or otherwise unavailable.

The appointments were just for canvassing the election. The Caretaker Commissioners will not take on any other duties of the county commission.

County officials had 142 absentee ballots to be counted, along with 388 provisionals that had to 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.

Couch thanked the Secretary of State’s Office for sending an observer to make sure everything was done properly.

“We found a way,” he said of completing the canvassing process. “I think this is something that can be discussed in the future when someone else has a similar situation.

“I certainly hope we don’t have another like this, but being able to find a way to complete our mandated duties to make sure we certify this election. Doing it right is always the correct thing to do. I am glad we were able to do it.”

Tuckwiller said she was not authorized to comment on what happened during the county’s canvass. She did say they had observers in other counties to address any concerns that might come up and make sure things went smoothly.

“This is a very unique situation,” Couch said.

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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