Questions, allegations swirling around election in Mingo County

Four candidates who lost their Primary Election races last month are raising questions about how the election was conducted in Mingo County. Incumbent state Senator Chandler Swope, House of Delegates candidate John White, Assessor candidate Audrey Smith and County Commission candidate Marty Fortner say it appears that Democrats voted in the Republican Primary, which would be grounds for contesting the election.

White, Smith and Fortner met with investigators in the Secretary of State’s Office just days after the election. Swope is expected to file a formal complaint this week with Mingo County officials.

A spread sheet from Mingo County on election tabulation software adds to the suspicions. Republican voter turnout in some precincts was abnormally high. It was 70 percent or higher in 11 of the county’s 28 precincts. Six precincts had a Republican turnout above 80 percent.

One important note here: Independents who vote Republican inflate Republican turnout but even so, turnouts as high as 70 or 80 percent don’t make sense, especially since statewide Republican turnout at last check was closer to 40 percent.

Consider precinct 59, one of the largest in Mingo County with nearly 1,200 voters—456 Democrats, 376 Republicans and 360 Independents. Split pretty evenly, right?  But 79 percent of the individuals who voted in that precinct received a Republican ballot.

Or take precinct 47 with about 1,100 voters—414 Democrats, 309 Republicans and 351 Independents. Again, fairly evenly divided, but 74 percent of the people who showed up to vote received a Republican ballot.

“We had several [precincts] that were in 80 and 70 percentile for Republican voting,” White told WOWK TV.  “There’s no way that many Republicans voted.”

These and other numbers reinforce the suspicion that some Democrats were given Republican ballots, which dramatically increased the GOP turnout and violated state election laws—and may have changed the outcome of races.

What happened?

The simplest explanation is that poll workers made mistakes by giving voters whatever ballot they wanted regardless of their party affiliation.  By state law, that must be challenged and should not be counted by the County Commission sitting as the Board of Canvassers.

But the Board has already certified the results. State law then says ballots not challenged as required are potential grounds for a candidate to contest the election.

Another possibility, which is the more nefarious notion, is that someone conspired to ensure that Democrats received the Republican ballots to aid a particular candidate or candidates. That would be a far more serious matter and potentially trigger criminal charges, and so far there is no evidence of that.

It does not help that Mingo County has a sordid history of election shenanigans.

Mingo County has the reputation of dirty politics,” Smith told WOWK.  “Until people step forward and say, ‘enough is enough,’ it’s going to continue on,” Smith said. “So, enough is enough.”

Mingo County Deputy Clerk Angie Browning appearing on Talkline this week defended the integrity of the election.  She said the wide disparity between the number of Republican and Democratic voters in certain precincts can be attributed to highly-contested races on the Republican ballot and no candidates on the Democratic ballot.

Much will depend on the filing on behalf of Senator Swope, who lost to Craig Hart in Mingo County 2,152 to 364. His complaint includes allegations from Democratic voters who say they received and voted a Republican ballot. The filing also includes a request to review data from the precincts to determine if voters were given the wrong ballot and, if so, how many times that happened.

It seems implausible that Republicans had record-shattering turnouts in a handful of precincts in Mingo County. Maybe there is a logical explanation, as Browning said.  However, there are potentially a half dozen state election laws that could have been violated if the issue was widespread.


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