Typically when you see the words “Lincoln County” and “politics” in the same story, it’s bad news. The southern West Virginia county has been a den of corrupt government for generations.
But last week Metronews reported a story that should give the long-suffering people of Lincoln County some hope.
Lincoln County Clerk Mryl Gue’s office, working with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office, spent weeks poring over county voter rolls to make sure they were accurate.
They started with about 19,000 voters on the books. That was the first sign of trouble, since according the U.S. Census there are only 21,500 men, women and children in the county.
So, Gue told me, “we started going through them one by one.”
They found over 7,200 voters who should have been on the inactive list because they had not voted in two consecutive election cycles. Gue believes most of those voters have long since left the county or are not interested in voting, which means they’ll be canceled after the 2014 General Election.
Gue and his staff also removed 2,216 people from the voting rolls. Of those, 294 were deceased, while the rest had moved away.
That leaves just over 11,000 active voters in Lincoln County. Think about that; that’s 19,000 potentially eligible voters down to 11,000, because some folks finally did their job. According to Gue, the voter rolls probably had not been updated in 20 years, and some of the errors dated back as far as 1960.
Unfortunately, Lincoln County couldn’t have expected the previous county clerk to do the job.
Donald Whitten is off to jail along with former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, after they tried to fix the 2010 Primary Election by misusing absentee ballots. Former Lincoln County Commissioner Thomas Ramey was also part of the conspiracy and he faces sentencing later this year.
Whitten, Bowman and Ramey were just the latest. Before them, it was Assessor Jerry Weaver and Circuit Clerk Greg Stowers who for years were in the election fixing business. Incredibly, when Weaver got out of jail he went to work in the assessor’s office and even contemplated a run for sheriff earlier this year.
Over the past two years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office have worked hard to try to break up the cycle of political corruption in Lincoln County. And now Myrl Gue, who was appointed after Whitten’s resignation, has done some badly needed housekeeping in the Lincoln County Clerk’s Office.
It’s way too soon to say that Lincoln County politics are on the straight and narrow. The political corruption has been like the illegal drug trade; when one drug dealer gets taken off the streets another one takes his place.
But the convictions and the purging of the voting rolls are encouraging signs.