HAMLIN — “Only in Lincoln County.” That was the comment of one election canvass observer upon learning that the Lincoln count had left incumbent Democrat Delegate Josh Barker and challenger Gary McCallister tied in the race for the second nomination in the 22nd House Delegate District.
Although the tie vote, at 1,253, encompassed parts of Boone, Logan and Putnam counties in addition to Lincoln, the observer voiced the common idea that, when it comes to election controversies, Lincoln County stands out. In 2012, the county was the scene of what became known as the “absentee ballot scandal” which led to three elected officials going to prison. That time, the county had a disproportionate amount of absentee ballots and an investigation led to the discovery of corruption in the process.
This time around, Lincoln appeared to have a wide lead in provisional or “challenged” ballots in the district. While Putnam and Logan had only a handful of the questionable ballots, Boone had none. Meanwhile, Lincoln County vote officials reported more than 80 such ballots. Of those, 59 were said to be in District 22.
Election night results gave Barker a three-vote lead but the canvassing produced a tie. Barker picked up a vote in Logan and another in Putnam, which finished their counts Monday, to give him a five-vote lead. But when election workers finished tabulating Lincoln on Tuesday, McCallister had gained nine votes to four for Barker. That tied the vote at 1,253. Incumbent Democrat Jeff Eldridge of Lincoln County finished first in the race for two seats by a wide margin, with 1,671 votes.
Peculiarities abound in the Lincoln canvass itself. During the canvass, reporters and observers present tallied 22 votes that were to be counted as ruled by the canvassing board. But a printout from election night to the end of canvass shows only 18 more ballots actually counted. Of those, 14 were Democrats. Officials had no reasonable explanation for the variance Friday before retiring for the Memorial Day weekend.
In addition, there is a question as to which ballots will be recounted since McCallister demanded a recount of only 12 of Lincoln’s 14 district precincts by the 6:05 p.m., deadline Thursday. According to state law, a candidate has 48 hours from the declaration of results to request a recount. Since Lincoln did not conclude until 6:05, Tuesday, that set the deadline, according to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. After one candidate requests a recount, others in the race have 24 hours to also request such a count. If only one candidates seeks a recount by the deadlines, that candidate can stop a count when he or she gains a vote, thus making him or her a winner. In this case, Barker had not yet been officially notified that McCallister had requested a recount, he said late Friday.
Kristy Scraggs, Lincoln’s Chief Election Clerk., said Friday her office would “give our sheriff the notification to be delivered to Josh (Barker) Tuesday after Memorial Day. He (the sheriff) will take it to the Boone County sheriff and we expect Barker to be served Tuesday.” That, apparently, would start the 24-hour process in which Barker can request a recount himself. One of those advising Barker said Saturday that the candidate expected to file for the recount in all of Lincoln County, as well as Boone and Logan.
But those supporting McCallister were not sure that would be allowed. Charleston attorney Pat Maroney, working with McCallister, said earlier that he believed the candidate filing for a recount prior to the initial 48-hour period “sets the standard for what precincts can be counted.” If that is true, Barker would be limited to also requesting a recount in only the 12 Lincoln precincts. Maroney added that permitting the second-filing candidate to ask for more precincts to be counted would also “trigger the question” of whether the candidate who originally filed would have another 24 hours to join that recount.
Those who muttered, “only in Lincoln County,” were left shaking their heads during the long holiday weekend. Scraggs said, if just the 12 Lincoln County precincts are included, she expected county commissioners, acting as the board of canvassers, to convene Friday morning, May 30.
McCallister also complicated the process by asking Lincoln County’s board to reconsider challenged ballots it did not count last week of those who are residents of the county but voted in the wrong precinct. Maroney had also said, during the canvass, that he felt there was “no doubt those votes should be counted.”