Judge affirms that Harpers Ferry votes from a year ago should finally be counted

Following up on a Supreme Court ruling, a circuit judge has ordered the Town of Harpers Ferry to count four provisional ballots that have been in dispute in the municipal election for more than a year.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Debra McLaughlin issued the order on Tuesday.

That means the votes of citizens Linda McCarty, George McCarty, Adam Hutton and Leah Howell will finally be counted following the  June 11, 2019, election.

That, in turn, could sway the makeup of town council and affect a $139 million development project.

20200721 Circuit Court Order (Text)

The four votes have been in limbo for a year.

The results were very close in the race for five town council seats:

Barbara Humes received 91 votes; Jay Premack, 87 votes; Hardwick Johnson, 85 votes; Christian Pechuekonis, 84 votes; Charlotte Thompson, 84 votes; Nancy Singleton Case, 82 votes; Deborah McGee, 81 votes; Marjorie Flynn Yost, 81 votes; and Leah Howell, 15 votes.

McGee, who lost by three votes, and Case, who lost by two votes, have been challenging the results based on four provisional ballots cast by voters.

The election mess began, lawyers for Case and McGee contended, because of an error that occurred when the four citizens registered to vote through the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

Somehow, the residents were registered with addresses on “West” Washington Street, which placed them in neighboring Bolivar, rather than the appropriate Washington Street in Harpers Ferry.

The Harpers Ferry Board of Canvassers first took a look at the ballots and declined to count them. Case and McGee then appealed to Harpers Ferry Town Council, serving as an election tribunal. That meant two of the incumbents who could lose their seats heard the appeal.

The Council voted to leave the disputed ballots uncounted, with the town recorder and a councilman dissenting and contending that the situation was being guided by “conflict of interest and political gaming.”

Hearing the original appeal, McLaughlin ruled last November that the four votes should be opened and counted. At the time, though, she ruled that Case didn’t have standing.

The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which agreed that the votes should be counted but reversed the judge on Case’s standing. The Supreme Court then remanded the case back to McLaughlin.

So the judge’s latest order underscores the recount and now gives Case the authority to officially participate in the challenge.

Both Case and McGee are viewed as in favor of expediting the Hill Top House project, a longstanding hotel development that has divided the community.

The developers of Hill Top House have said the town of Harpers Ferry hasn’t been a trustworthy partner, in part because the election remained unsettled.

Members of the town’s current governing majority have said they want to see the project go forward under a zoning overlay district established in 2017 — but they contend the developers of the property want to go beyond that.

Four votes cast last year could now determine what happens next.

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