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Two Harpers Ferry council members get ethics reprimand following long-disputed election

Two council members in Harpers Ferry have been publicly reprimanded and fined as fallout from an election fiasco that took a year to resolve.

Hardwick Johnson and Charlotte Thompson reached settlement agreements this week with the West Virginia Ethics Commission. Each was fined $750.

The two admitted to violating the voting provisions of the West Virginia Governmental Ethics Act by participating in the Harpers Ferry Election Contest trial as members of the Contest Tribunal on August 24, 2019.

The Ethics Act prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they or a business with which they are associated has a financial interest. The election contest could have resulted in the council members, Johnson and Thompson, losing their council seats.

Johnson and Thompson were ordered to undergo training on the Ethics Act as part of the settlement of the ethics complaints against them.

Johnson, Hardwick CA (Text)

Thompson, Charlotte CA (Text)

The local election in Harpers Ferry went unresolved for more than a year because of a dispute over four provisional ballots.

After election night, 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.

So Case and McGee, who were just on the outside looking in, challenged the results.

Their claims were based on the votes of citizens Linda McCarty, George McCarty, Adam Hutton and Leah Howell.

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 Johnson and Thompson, two of the incumbents who could have wound up losing 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.”

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. 

When the Board of Canvassers met again earlier this month to open the four ballots and count them, Case wound up on council with 85 votes and Thompson wound up off with 84.

The other final votes included Humes with 92, Premack, with 90 votes, Pechuekonis, with 88 votes and Johnson, with 86 votes.

The situation also drew scrutiny from state officials such as Secretary of State Mac Warner. Warner commented on the local election after it was resolved.

“The attempt to control the outcome of the Harpers Ferry municipal election held more than a year ago should be a constant reminder that election manipulation can occur at every level of government.  We must all remain vigilant in our resolve to keep our elections free and fair for all,” he said.

“I’m pleased that the final four votes were counted and I am hopeful that the council and the citizens of Harpers Ferry will now be able to move forward together.”

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