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Complaints lodged over special election in Jefferson County

August 19, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Controversy continued to swirl around the June 25 pension bond election in Jefferson County Thursday when two people complained to the Jefferson County Commission about polls opening late, distractions at the voting places and ballots being left unattended.

One of the speakers mentioned the possibility of a police investigation into the matter.

The issues were raised by Reva Mickey and Michael Cassell, who hold county and state positions in the Democratic Party.

Mickey is a member of the West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee, and Cassell is chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee.

Mickey and Cassell emphasized that their comments were nonpartisan and that they were representing themselves as taxpayers of the county.

Mickey relayed to the commission information she has received about delays in opening times for polls.

Polls in West Virginia were scheduled to open at 6:30 a.m., but on Election Day, they did not open until 10:30 a.m. at Precinct 2, which is Wright Denny Elementary School, Mickey said. Mickey said the precinct did not open on time because poll workers did not show up on time.

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Precinct 35 in Shepherdstown, W.Va., did not open on time because a supply clerk arrived late and there were distractions in Precinct 35-B because of a basketball clinic being held in the building, Mickey said.

Precinct 35 and 35-B are in the basketball gymnasium at Shepherd University, Mickey said.

There was a lack of notification of changes in polling places and some ballot boxes were left unattended when they arrived at the Jefferson County Courthouse, Mickey and Cassell alleged.

When ballot boxes are brought to the courthouse from polling places, a Democrat and Republican poll worker must accompany the boxes until they are received by a election official at the courthouse, Mickey said.

Mickey requested that the commissioners investigate the election. If it is determined through an investigation that the problems existed, the state Secretary of State's office should be contacted so assistance can be given to the county to make sure the problems do not occur again, Mickey said.

Mickey also mentioned the possibility of a police investigation if it is determined the problems she heard about existed, particularly in regards to ballot boxes possibly being left unattended.

"Let's get this corrected before the next election," Mickey said.

The election was nonpartisan and was held to ask state voters whether they supported the sale of up to $5.5 billion in bonds to pay off debt associated with pension plans for state employees.

Cassell said the issue on the ballot made it a fairly simple election, but it could have been different had it been a partisan election.

Cassell said he was concerned what the reaction could have been had the election included hotly contested races between candidates who spent tens of thousands of dollars on their races.

Had that been the scenario "and we bungled the job, it would be horrible," Cassell said.

County elections are overseen by Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan.

Maghan was at the county commission meeting Thursday when Mickey and Cassell aired their concerns, but she did not respond to the comments.

Maghan declined to comment in detail about the situation after the meeting, saying she would rather wait until the commissioners discuss the issue. Maghan said she always is open to input about how elections can be improved, and she said the next election will be "better and more smooth."

Commission President Rusty Morgan said Thursday he was not prepared to respond to Mickey and Cassell's concerns, but said a response could be coming "fairly shortly." Morgan suggested the commissioners hold a workshop meeting to discuss the matter.

"We'd have to sort through the issues," Morgan said.

Commissioner Jim Surkamp emphasized that much of what Mickey said was secondhand information.

Mickey said she did not air her concerns about the election before now because she wanted to give some time for the issue over lunches given to poll workers to be settled.

That controversy arose when Maghan decided to offer lunch to poll workers. Maghan said she wanted to offer the meals to poll workers since they are at the work areas for about 16 hours.

The food was provided to poll workers by a Frederick, Md., company owned by Maghan's brother-in-law, B. Randall Maghan. Maghan said she did not see a problem getting the food from Renaissance Refinishing because she is not affiliated with the company and does not profit from the firm.

Maghan said she chose Renaissance Refinishing to provide the meals after the company offered the lowest bid for the food. The bill was $1,952.

A spokeswoman for another catering business that was considered for providing the food said her firm gave a lower bid than what Maghan claimed.

Maghan paid for the meals, but wanted to be reimbursed from the county's voter registration fund. The commission voted not to reimburse Maghan.

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