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Both Charles Town council candidates seek ballot recount

June 05, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - The unfolding saga over who will fill the Ward IV seat on Charles Town City Council took another turn Monday when both candidates locked in a tie for the position asked for a ballot recount.

The recount request effectively threw out a suit that had been filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court in an attempt to force city officials to count a challenged ballot that might have decided the race.

Michael Slover and incumbent Lacie Mumaw each asked for a recount by the 5 p.m. Monday deadline, city officials said.

City Council members making up an election review board agreed during a meeting at city hall Monday night to start the recount at 5 p.m. Friday.

Members of the recount board estimated it will take about two hours to recount the votes.

Mumaw was initially ahead of Slover by two votes in the May 24 election, but a May 29 canvass of 21 of 25 provisional ballots resulted in a tie vote. The canvassing board later reviewed four challenged or "provisional" ballots.

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The board agreed that three of the four voters were correctly rejected at the polls because they live outside the city limits. Their provisional ballots were not opened.

The fourth and final unopened ballot belonged to Agustin Segura, according to City Clerk Joe Cosentini.

But Segura demanded that his ballot not be counted and the canvassing board agreed with Segura's request. The one unopened ballot left meant that the secrecy to protect voting was compromised, according to Cosentini.

Since then, Mumaw and Slover have been locked in a tie with 253 votes each.

Segura's ballot was viewed as a way to break the tie and an attorney representing one of the candidates in the city election and other plaintiffs asked a judge Monday to force the canvassing board to count Segura's ballot.

Suit filed

Charles Town attorney Jim Kratovil filed a suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court over the matter Friday, arguing in the suit that the canvassing board had to consider Segura's ballot.

Kratovil told Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. during a hearing Monday that once the city has determined that a ballot is valid, it must be counted.

Kratovil expressed concerns about people being allowed to withdraw their ballots, saying the abuse of such a process could be an affront to the democratic process.

Steptoe brought up the right of the voter and said one of the issues was secrecy for Segura's vote.

"That's a little different," Steptoe said.

An attorney for the City of Charles Town said there was no case law to deal with a situation like the one facing the Ward IV race.

Steptoe said he was concerned that Kratovil's suit was premature and Steptoe declined making any rulings in the case until it was determined whether a ballot recount would be requested.

If a recount was requested, Steptoe said he would dismiss Kratovil's suit "without prejudice," which meant the matter could be brought before Steptoe again if parties in the recount were not satisfied with the outcome.

If there had not been a recount, Steptoe said he would have considered hearing further arguments from Kratovil over why the city should count Segura's ballot.

During Monday night's meeting, members of the canvassing board discussed how ballots would be recounted.

Council member Matt Ward, a member of the canvassing board, made a motion to consider all ballots, including the one cast by Segura.

Ward's motion died for lack of a second.

The Ward IV seat was one of four council seats up for grabs in the city election.

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