After a year, four Harpers Ferry votes to be counted tonight with implication for big project

Four votes that have been in limbo for more than a year will finally be counted tonight in Harpers Ferry.

The board of canvassers will have a special meeting at 7 p.m. today to count four provisional ballots for Town Council candidates that were cast in the June 11, 2019, municipal elections.

If the results change, any new council members will be sworn into office right after recertification of the elections.

The state Supreme Court earlier this summer ruled that the votes should be counted. Then a week ago, a circuit judge affirmed that ruling and ordered the count. 

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Secretary of State Mac Warner had earlier weighed in with an opinion that technicalities should not keep the votes from being counted. Today, Morrisey tweeted that he’s still keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

To be counted will be the votes of citizens Linda McCarty, George McCarty, Adam Hutton and Leah Howell. That, in turn, could sway the makeup of town council and affect a $139 million development project.

The election results were very close 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 the four provisional ballots.

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.

How the town council is constituted could shape how the multi-million dollar project moves forward.

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.”

That could all be resolved tonight.

The board of canvassers will meet at the Stephen T. Mather Training Center, 51 Mather Place, Harpers Ferry for the recount, followed by recertification of vote totals.

Although the event will be held in a larger venue to allow for current social distancing recommendations, the town says the general public can’t be accommodated at the meeting in person because of pandemic limits on gatherings to 25 people.

So attendance is restricted to just the people taking part.

But, the meeting will be livestreamed on the Corporation of Harpers Ferry’s Facebook page.

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