UPDATE 8/5/11 @ 11:20 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Just three months ago, Lincoln County had 116 percent of its residents registered to vote. It doesn't take a math wiz to realize those numbers just don't add up.
Last year, Lincoln County was under heavy fire. There were claims of voter fraud, claims of votes from the grave and enough absentee ballots in the last election to raise some eyebrows.
For the last three months, the County Election Office had many challenges. They, alongside the West Virginia Secretary of State's office, were saddled with the task of verifying voters, one by one.
When the project began April 1, the county only had seven voters listed as inactive in their system. As of Aug. 5, at the completion of the project, more than 7,000 were listed as inactive.
That means the county's list of voters is up to date -- they're rid of the people who have moved or passed away without their knowledge.
The voter registration has dropped about 50 percent.
"When people move, they don't notify you, so a lot of those inactive people don't even live in the county or even in the state," Kristy Scraggs with the Election Office said. "Anybody out there who's moved and a family member sees this, let them know. Tell them to send us proof so we can keep cleaning this up."
Lincoln County isn't alone with the high numbers. The Secretary of State's office say all counties clean up their voter list regularly, and it's not uncommon to see voter registration in the 90 percent range. They say that means a lot of people registered to vote have moved or passed away, and no one at the County Clerk's office was informed.
A Nitro lawyer representing Phoebe Harless and Charles Brumfield filed the challenge with the Lincoln County Commission. In his written notice, lawyer Harvey Peyton alleges fraud and misconduct.
Harless was running for a seat on the county commission and Brumfield was running for circuit clerk. Both candidates were ahead after the ballots cast on May 11 were counted. They both lost after 619 absentee ballots were added to vote totals.
Peyton says about 90 percent of the absentee votes went to candidates on one slate.
It has ignited a political firestorm that got a little hotter Monday with the threat of legal action by the county clerk's office.
The news conference was a little peculiar. The county clerk, an election clerk and several office staff members lined up. Then the election clerk read a two-page statement the county clerk wrote while he just stood there. From there, things only got even more bizarre.
"We’re not going to take any questions," Lincoln County Election Clerk Kristy Scraggs said. "Anything you need to know will be contained in the body of my statement."
With that, Scraggs, read a statement as its author County Clerk Donald C. Whitten stood nearby and watched.
"Our office has serious concern in regard to the accusations being made by Commissioner Charles Vance of dead people having voted," Scraggs read.
Scraggs went on to say, “It's time to stop the shenanigans from some parties to throw an election and understand every voter deserves to have a voice and their voice count."
The democratic process is alive and well, according to the county clerk and anyone who would suggest otherwise is headed toward a dead end. Dead is exactly what several of the voters are, according to Vance who feels pretty sure he can prove it.
"I know of at least three who have passed away," Vance said. "I recognized their names when I saw them."
Typical absentee votes in Lincoln County hit about 200. This election, 600 to 800 people voted absentee ballot. Vance, who's also a doctor, says he knows of at least three who were his patients and died before the primary. He suspects there are many more. He wasn't available for a camera interview, but did talk to us by phone.
"I offered the names to the prosecutor and told him I’d give them to him," Vance said. "I called him and asked him if he needed to see me about anything and he said he didn’t."
The big question at the center of the controversy is how can anyone be sure names on the list are those of dead people since the list didn't contain dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers or precincts.
The president of the county commission Charles McCann says many of the names in question are common names that could be any number of people.
Commissioner Charles Vance called for a separation of early votes and absentee votes. Commissioner Charles McCann said he didn't think it was necessary.
"Our (commissioners) purpose is to look at the total process today," McCann said.
Vance said, "The reason we are dragging our feet on this may be that those numbers are markedly different. They are so markedly different that we determined that maybe there was an organization or a group that was trying to get those numbers that way."
Vance said the number of absentee ballots requested in Lincoln County was abnormal for a county of 22,000 people. Two candidates filed a claim alleging vote buying and coercion that was denied by the state Supreme Court.
Here is how the numbers breakdown, courtesy of The Lincoln Journal:
In the race for County Commission, Thomas Ramey had 294 early votes. Phoebe Harless, the winner on Election Day, had 208. However, when it came to early votes, Ramey had 545 and Harless had 59.
In the race for Circuit Clerk, Jerry Bowman had 228 early votes. Election Day winner, Charles Brumfield, had 146.
Bowman topped Brumfield by about 90 percent when it came to absentee ballots with 511. Brumfield had 62.
According to The Lincoln Journal, a vote counting machine broke Friday, and there are still seven precincts left to count.
That will be done at 9 a.m. Monday.
In the Lincoln County Commission race, Thomas Ramey Jr. beat challenger Phoebe Harless. But when you look at the numbers just from election day, Harless got 51% of the vote to Ramey's 48%. However, the votes cast by absentee ballots and in early voting gave Ramey the edge. Ramey received 75% of the early and absentee votes, while Harless received 24%.
It was a similar situation in the circuit clerk race. Incumbent Charles Brumfield lost to Sheriff Jerry Bowman. But looking at just the votes cast on election day, Brumfield won. At the polls Brumfield picked up 39% of the vote to Bowman's 32%. But in early and absentee voting Bowman was the clear winner, receiving 65% of the vote while Brumfield only received 18%. These numbers were provided by the Lincoln Journal.
In the 2010 primary there were 621 absentee ballots cast. In the 2008 primary that number was 256. In Kanawha County, which is nine times the size of Lincoln County, there were about 200 absentee votes in this year's primary.
Because of the high number of absentee ballots, two candidates filed a petition with the West Virginia Supreme Court before the election claiming voter fraud. They alleged the ballots were being obtained and filled out illegally. Their petition was denied the day before the election because of lack of information and the court said it was premature.
But Harless and Brumfield are still crying foul and say the numbers prove their point.
"There's not that many people out of town or incapacitated because there never were before," Brumfield said speaking about the number of people who absentee voted.
"I truly believe in my heart that a lot of these people who voted these absentee ballots were misinformed," Harless says. "They didn't understand the whole process."
But Ramey, who won the commission race, says the process worked.
"It's a really sad attempt to oppress the vote," Ramey says. "Lincoln county should be looked at as a leading example to the other counties of how we brought access to all voters, allowing them to participate in the democratic process."
Ramey says it would be impossible to give someone an actual ballot. He says he did a better job on the campaign trail informing voters of their options.
"What we did is we kept the absentee form, not the ballot, the form with us so that anyone we ran into who would be unavailable to vote election day and unavailable to go to the polling place, we gave them a form that they could fill out and request a ballot,"
Anyone can print an absentee ballot request form off of the Secretary of State's web-site. But you have to qualify to vote absentee. People who are ill or disabled qualify, also those who work out-of-town or who work hours that do not allow them to vote in person at the polls qualify.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant says she takes allegations of voter fraud very seriously but legally she cannot say if she is investigating the claims.
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