Official asks if Ethics decision could block commissioners from serving as canvassers if they’re also on the ballot

Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper is asking the state Ethics Commission to clarify any additional repercussions of an agreement to reprimand two Harpers Ferry Council members who participated in a decision to not count ballots that could have affected their own elections.

Kent Carper

Carper, in a letter to the Ethics Commission, asked whether that would affect commissioners who participate in elections canvassing even when they’re on the ballot.

The commissioner also asked the Secretary of State’s Office to review the matter.

“In more than 24 years as Commissioner, I have never missed a canvass, as I believe it to be one of the most critical duties of my office,” Carper wrote in a letter to the Ethics Commission.

“That is why I strongly feel the Ethics Commission’s findings regarding this election must be made crystal clear. I am concerned this ruling could have the unintended consequences that would jeopardize the integrity of the election process.”

Earlier this month, two council members in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, were publicly reprimanded and fined as fallout from an election fiasco that took a year to resolve.

Hardwick Johnson and Charlotte Thompson reached settlement agreements 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.

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.

he 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.

Carper, in his letter, said he understands why that situation would be of concern. But he sought further clarification of the boundaries it could imply.

He asked what would happen if there is a recount directly involving a race with one of three commissioners.

“While I certainly understand the Ethics Commission’s findings, the Commission must address whether this ruling applies when a county commissioner is required by law to serve on the Board of Canvasser’s during an election canvass where the county commissioner is a candidate on the ballot.”

Letter to K Weber 08112020 (Text)

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