FAIRMONT, W.Va. — An already wild municipal election in Fairmont where two races ended in a tie could be heading down an even stranger path.
“Could” is relative — the race is absolutely going to get stranger. A court order has effectively decertified the results in the two races that were decided by the candidate-approved equivalent of a coin flip that essentially amounted to drawing lots.
Marcella Yaremchuk defeated Josh Rice in Fairmont’s first district City Council race following the tie. Meanwhile, Houston Richardson won in the fifth district despite trailing by a single vote to firefighter Barry Bledsoe when election officials first declared all the votes counted. A recount resulted in a statistically improbable second tie, eventually concluding with Richardson winning in the tiebreaking procedure.
So here’s where it gets stranger: a human error led to the failure to tabulate at least 57 ballots, making it entirely possible that Yaremchuk and Richardson — who have already been sworn in to office — could actually wind up losing their races.
“The possibility does exist that those races will be effected by adding in 57 — potentially 67 — ballots,” said Thomas Antulov, a deputy clerk with the Marion County Clerk’s office.
Marion County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Wilson moved to decertify the races, following a writ filed by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, Wednesday afternoon.
The order requires the canvassing board to reconvene, tally the lost votes, and determine the new outcome. Proper notice must be given — including an ad that will run in the local paper Times West Virginian later this week.
“Once we ascertain the results, those will be made public,” Antulov said. “The process of the recount then starts over.”
Antulov said, in a race this strange, the board should be prepared for literally any outcome.
“The winners of those district races could — and I say could, it doesn’t have to change — but it could be effected by the addition of putting in those 57 ballots,” he said. “That could effect the outcome of those races.”
In nearly 15 years managing local elections, Antulov said the original outcome of the Fairmont municipal election, the discovery of the lost ballots, the involvement of the circuit court and the Secretary of State’s office has put them in essentially uncharted waters.
“Nothing of this magnitude,” he said. “We had a county commission race in 2014 that was within five votes.”
Regardless of changes, Antulov said any candidate can ask for a recount within the 48 hour window following next Friday’s canvassing board meeting. That is followed by a potential 10-day period to contest the results.
It’s even possible — though statistically well past the already improbable events that have occurred — that the races could still end tied.
In that event, with the addition of the new ballots, it would likely require yet another tie breaking procedure. Don’t expect a coin flip though, Antulov said.
During the previous tiebreaker, officials wrote the initials of candidates on campaign buttons of equal size, stuck them into coffee cans, shook them, and then waited to see which button would come up with the initials-side up.
So, you know, nothing overly complicated.
“People didn’t like the idea of a coin flip,” Antulov said.
The canvassing board will convene Friday, Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Marion County Election Center.