WSAZ | West Virginia | News

UPDATE: Lincoln County Elections Office Overhaul

By: Jennifer Rizzi, Anna Baxter, The Associated Press, WSAZ News Staff, Kristen Schneider, Jennifer Rizzi Email
By: Jennifer Rizzi, Anna Baxter, The Associated Press, WSAZ News Staff, Kristen Schneider, Jennifer Rizzi Email

UPDATE 6/3/13 @ 9:30 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Officials in Lincoln County say they're working hard to clean house and restore confidence in voters.

They say the elections office is getting a much-needed makeover, starting with voting records and machines.

It's the start of a voter roll purging process -- a massive effort to make sure every vote counts, after the election fraud scandal of 2010 brought problems to light.

Several public officials were sentenced to prison following the investigation. Authorities say more than 100 absentee ballots were falsified in that race.

Now, leaders say they're making sure all of their voting records are up to date. Five new employees were hired to pitch in with the process.

"A lot of our voters do not have voter information cards," Kristy Skraggs said. "The law states that we should have a card on file for every voter."

But officials say that's only half the battle in ensuring smooth elections. The other half is repairing aging and broken machines.

"We've had in the last two elections machines that busted and cracked," Skraggs said. "We used lots of duct tape and electrical tape to finish out the last election."

Officials say the county commission has designated thousands of dollars to repair the machines.

They say they're working to make sure all voter records match the information found on the Secretary of State's website.



UPDATE 11/15/12 @ 3:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A former West Virginia county official will spend 21 months in federal prison for his role in an election fraud scheme.

Thomas Ramey Jr. was a Lincoln County commissioner when he lied to an FBI agent about his handling of fraudulent absentee ballots. The 32-year-old Democrat pleaded guilty to that charge in August after resigning from office.

Ramey was part of a conspiracy to flood the 2010 Democratic primary with absentee ballots. That plot also involved then-Sheriff Jerry Bowman and then-Clerk Donald Whitten. Both resigned and pleaded guilty. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston sentenced each to prison in August.

Prosecutors asked Johnston to consider those punishments when he sentenced Ramey on Thursday in Charleston. Ramey asked for probation with a period of home confinement if necessary.

“We have shown that election law violations will be investigated fully and the people who are responsible will be held accountable,” Secretary Tennant said. “Regardless of political party or position, if you chip away at our democracy and ignore the laws that make it possible for the citizens of our state to make their voice heard with their vote, there will be serious consequences. The Secretary of State’s Office never gave up on this investigation, and I am proud of the work that was done. But our work is not done. We will continue to work with election officials in Lincoln County, and anywhere else in West Virginia, to make sure that our elections are fair and open.”



UPDATE 11/15/12 @ 9 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A former Lincoln County Commissioner hopes to avoid federal prison for his role in an election fraud scheme.

Thomas Ramey Jr. was a commissioner when he lied to an FBI agent about his handling of fraudulent absentee ballots.

The 32-year-old Democrat pleaded guilty to that charge in August after resigning from office. He is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday afternoon in U.S.District Court in Charleston.

Ramey was part of a conspiracy to flood the 2010 Democratic primary with absentee ballots. That plot also involved then-Sheriff Jerry Bowman and then-Clerk Donald Whitten.

Both resigned and pleaded guilty. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston sentenced each to prison in August.

Prosecutors are asking Johnston to consider those punishments when he sentences Ramey on Thursday in Charleston. Ramey is asking for probation with a period of home confinement if necessary.



UPDATE 10/23//12 @ 11 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Candidates for public office in Lincoln County are attempting to restore confidence in voters after a scandal rocked the county two years ago.

Several public officials were sentenced to prison following the exposure of massive election fraud in 2010. Authorities say more than 100 absentee ballots were falsified in that race.

"I think change has to be made... we're like the laughingstock of the state," voter Lacy Workman said.

Candidates came to the courthouse Monday evening to address questions from the public and talk about their visions for improving the county. They say the sheer number of people running this year makes it the first interesting race in a long time.

"This time, there are independents, Democrats, and Republicans,"
candidate Betty Hodges said. "And we all have a chance at winning. We want to let voters know we can have fair elections in this county."



UPDATE 8/29/12 @ 4:46 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Two former Lincoln County officials were sentenced to federal prison on Tuesday for their roles in a 2010 primary election fraud scheme.

Former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, 58, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, three years of supervised release and a $5,000 fine.

In March, Bowman pleaded guilty to conspiracy against rights in connection with the election fraud plot.

Bowman’s co-conspirator and former Lincoln County Clerk Donald C. Whitten, 62, was sentenced to one year and six months in prison and three years of supervised release and a $5,000 fine.

The U.S Attorney says Whitten’s sentence is the longest in recent memory in an election fraud case in the Southern District of West Virginia. Whitten also pleaded guilty in March to making a false statement in connection with the fraud scheme.

“A citizen's right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “A stolen election shakes the public’s faith in government itself. It’s disgraceful for anyone to rig an election, and even worse when the criminal is a public official.”

“I appreciate Judge Johnston’s strong stance on the importance of clean elections in this state and everywhere, and I’m pleased with today’s sentences,” Goodwin said.

Bowman admitted that during the conspiracy, he falsified more than 100 absentee ballot applications for voters who did not have any legal basis to vote absentee. After the false applications were processed, Bowman then returned to many of those voters' homes and was in the room with them while they voted, telling them which candidates he backed.

Bowman further admitted that in at least six cases, he marked voters' absentee ballots himself. He also admitted that on several occasions, he witnessed a known associate complete absentee ballot applications for voters who had no apparent reason to vote absentee legally.

Bowman admitted that during the scheme, he hand-delivered numerous false absentee ballot applications to the Lincoln County Clerk, which he had completed. In addition, Bowman also admitted that he witnessed a known associate hand-deliver numerous absentee ballot applications to the Lincoln County Clerk, which the known individual had illegally completed.

Whitten admitted that in December 2011, he lied to an investigator about his role in the election fraud conspiracy. Whitten further admitted that he told an investigator that he had never provided absentee ballots to a known associate so that the associate could subsequently hand-deliver those ballots to voters. Whitten also admitted that at the time he made the statement, he knew that it was false.

As part of their plea agreements, Bowman and Whitten were required to resign from office.

Earlier this month, former Lincoln County Commissioner Thomas Ramey, Jr., 32, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to an FBI agent in connection to his role in the Lincoln County absentee voting fraud scheme.

Ramey faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Nov. 15

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 8/29/12 @ 11 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A former sheriff and clerk in Lincoln County are set to find out their punishments in an election fraud conspiracy.

Ex-Sheriff Jerry Bowman and Clerk Donald Whitten face sentencing Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Charleston.

In March, Bowman pleaded guilty to conspiring to stuff the primary ballot box while running for circuit clerk. Whitten pleaded guilty to lying to an investigator for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant that he had provided absentee ballots to Bowman.

At the time of their pleas, federal prosecutors had said Bowman faced up to 10 years in prison and Whitten a maximum sentence of five years.

But prosecutors said this week that Bowman helped convince now-former county Commissioner Thomas Ramey Jr. to admit to his role in the scheme.



UPDATE 8/8/12 @ 10:30 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A former Lincoln County Commissioner faces up to 5 years in prison for his role in an ongoing probe of election fraud.

Wednesday morning, Thomas Ramey Jr. pleaded guilty to lying to an FBI agent about absentee ballot applications during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

The 32-year-old Democrat admitted that on February 7, 2012, he told an FBI agent he did not know who had altered certain absentee ballot applications after those applications were submitted to the County Clerk’s office.

The truth, however, was that Ramey himself had directed another person to alter those applications and was present when the alterations were made. The defendant also admitted he completed many false absentee ballot applications for would-be voters, providing false reasons to claim those voters were eligible to vote absentee.

The plea agreement required Ramey to resign his seat on the Lincoln County Commission, which he did last month. It also bars him from holding public office or being involved in any campaign for public office for a period of 10 years.

Besides the possible five years in prison, Ramey also faces a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Nov. 15.

"With Mr. Ramey's guilty plea, we believe we have convicted all the most important participants in the fraudulent absentee ballot scheme in Lincoln County," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. "That said, our investigation will continue until we confirm that everyone whose conduct warrants prosecution has been charged."

"Clean elections are critical to our democracy," Goodwin continued. "We hope this yet again sends a clear message that election fraud won't be tolerated in the Southern District of West Virginia."

Previously, former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, 58, admitted that during the conspiracy, he falsified more than 100 absentee ballot applications for voters who did not have any legal basis to vote absentee. As stipulated in his plea agreement, Bowman also admitted that on several occasions, he witnessed co-defendant Ramey complete absentee ballot applications for voters who had no apparent reason to vote absentee legally.

Former Lincoln County Clerk Donald C. Whitten, 62, admitted that on December 7, 2011, he lied to an investigator about his role in the election fraud conspiracy.

Bowman previously pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy against rights in connection with the election fraud plot. Co-conspirator Whitten also previously pleaded guilty in March to making a false statement in connection with the fraud scheme.

Bowman faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Whitten faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 29.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 8/8/12 @ 10 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Lincoln County Commissioner Thomas Ramey, Jr. had no comment Wednesday morning as he walked into the Federal Courthouse in Charleston.

Ramey is expected to enter a guilty plea to a federal information that he lied to FBI agents during an investigation into voter fraud.

The information accuses the 32-year-old Democrat of telling investigators he did not know who altered absentee ballot applications. The U.S. Attorney's Office says it was actually Ramey who ordered someone to make the changes to the ballots and he was even there when it happened.

Ramey resigned from his position as a Lincoln County Commissioner last month.

Last week, Michael Browning was named to fill Ramey's seat.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 8/2/12 @ 8 p.m.
HAMLIN, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Lincoln County Commission has selected a potential replacement for Thomas Ramey Jr.

During a meeting Thursday evening, commissioners selected Michael Browning to fill Ramey's seat.

Ramey resigned last month after being charged with lying to FBI agents during an investigation into voter fraud according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Browning did not attend the meeting, so commissioners are now waiting to see if he accepts the position.

The election to permanently fill the seat will be on the November ballot.

Independent candidates must file by August 1. Republican and Democratic committees will have until August 20 to submit a name.

Ramey is expected to plead guilty to the charges during a federal court hearing on August 8.



UPDATE 7/24/12 @ 11:15 a.m.
HAMLIN, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Lincoln County Commission officially accepted the resignation of Commissioner Thomas Ramey during a special meeting Tuesday morning.

Ramey resigned Monday after being charged with lying to FBI agents during an investigation into voter fraud according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Commissioners now have 30 days to fill Ramey's seat temporarily until the election in November.

Commission president Charles McCann said he will meet with Commissioner Charles Vance to decide who that will be. The decision is expected to be made at the August 2 commission meeting.

McCann said he believes Lincoln County has lost a good Commissioner but rules have to be followed.

"Mr. Ramey worked hard, extra hard, his heart was in the right place trying to do what was good for Lincoln County but you always sitting in this position or any elected position you have to realize that there's rules to follow and those are things you know are not know, you're held responsible for so it's sad to see it happen but at the same time it's one of those things he stepped up to the plate and realized this was the thing to do based on legal implications," McCann said.

The election to permanently fill the seat will be on the November ballot.

Independent candidates must file by August 1. Republican and Democratic committees will have until August 20 to submit a name.

Ramey is expected to plead guilty to the charges during a federal court hearing on August 8.



UPDATE 7/23/12 @ 5:20 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Commissioner Thomas Ramey, Jr. resigned from his seat late Monday afternoon.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says Ramey lied to FBI agents during an investigation into voter fraud.

Ramey is expected to plead guilty to the charges during a federal court hearing on August 8.

The Lincoln County Commission will meet tomorrow morning to accept Ramey's resignation.

They will also come up with a plan to pick his replacement.

Ramey's seat will be on the November ballot.

The Democratic and Republican parties will meet to nominate candidates for that race.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/20/12 @ 11:45 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Lincoln County Commissioner is expected to plead guilty next month in a voter fraud investigation.

According to court records, a plea hearing has been set for Thomas Ramey Jr. on August 8.

A federal information was filed Tuesday against the 32-year-old Democrat.

Ramey is accused of telling investigators he did not know who altered absentee ballot applications. The U.S. Attorney's Office says it was actually him who ordered someone to make the changes to the ballots and he was even there when it happened.

Ramey missed Thursday's commission meeting because Commissioner Charles Vance said he was on vacation.

Commissioner Vance says they expect him to resign from his position, but they have not talked to him.

Ramey will remain on the county payroll until he resigns.

The plea hearing is set for August 8 at 9:30 a.m. at the federal court house in Charleston.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for more information.



UPDATE 7/19/12 @ 12:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Lincoln County Commissioner facing a federal charge in a voter fraud investigation wasn't at Thursday's scheduled meeting.

During the county commission meeting, Thomas Ramey Jr.'s seat sat empty. According to Commissioner Charles Vance, Ramey is on vacation.

A federal charge filed Tuesday alleges Ramey falsely said he did not know who altered absentee ballot applications.

Commissioner Vance says the county expects Ramey to resign from his post, but no one has heard from him. Vance says Ramey will be paid until he resigns.

Ramey appears to be the unidentified candidate for County Commission who allegedly schemed with then-Sheriff Jerry Bowman and then-Clerk Donald Whitten to hijack their party's 2010 primary with fraudulent absentee ballots.

Bowman and Whitten both pleaded guilty and resigned after the case against them surfaced in January.

Vance says this latest information filed against Ramey has encouraged voters. Vance says voters finally know that the voter fraud in the county is coming to an end and every vote is counted.

Meanwhile, commissioners also voted to move Jerry Weaver from the Assessor's Office to another position in the county.

Weaver will now be in the county's litter control program. He will be a full time employee, but he won't work more than 25 hours a week. He will be paid $12 an hour.

Vance says he's not sure why Weaver is seeking the change of employment because he'll be taking a significant pay cut.

A county resident protested the commissioner's decision, but in the end the motion was approved.

Weaver pleaded guilty in 2005 to federal vote buying charges when he was county Assessor. He spent a year in prison for trying to influence voters from 1992-2004.



UPDATE 7/17/12 @ 9:30 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Lincoln County Commissioner Thomas Ramey Jr. is accused of lying to an FBI agent investigating election fraud in southern West Virginia.

A federal charge filed Tuesday alleges the 32-year-old Democrat falsely said he did not know who altered absentee ballot applications.

Ramey appears to be the unidentified candidate for County Commission who allegedly schemed with then-Sheriff Jerry Bowman and then-Clerk Donald Whitten to hijack their party's 2010 primary with fraudulent absentee ballots.

Bowman and Whitten both pleaded guilty and resigned after the case against them surfaced in January.

The two await an Aug. 29 sentencing hearing.

A pending federal lawsuit alleges Ramey won that 2010 primary with illegal absentee ballots.

Tuesday's charge is known as an information. These typically signal that their target is negotiating a plea agreement with prosecutors.



UPDATE 6/11/12 @ 6:10 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The sentencing of two former Lincoln County officials are being delayed to give federal prosecutors more time to fully develop the defendants' cooperation in a vote fraud investigation.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnson has rescheduled the sentencing of former Sheriff Jerry Bowman and ex-county clerk Donald Whitten for Aug. 29 in Charleston. They originally were to be sentenced on Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors sought the delay and noted the defendants didn't object to the request.

In March, Bowman pleaded guilty to conspiring to stuff the primary ballot box while running for circuit clerk, while Whitten pleaded guilty to lying to an investigator for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant that he had provided absentee ballots to Bowman.

In addition, Lincoln County resident James Matheny was found guilty of threatening election fraud investigators.



UPDATE 3/7/12 @ 6:50 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman pleaded guilty Wednesday to a conspiracy charge. Former County Clerk Donald Whitten pleaded guilty to lying to an investigator.

Bowman resigned from his post as sheriff Tuesday.

The former sheriff and county clerk stayed mum about their involvement with a 2010 election fraud scheme going to federal court. However, inside the courtroom it was a different matter. Under oath, both men pleaded guilty.

Lisa Ramey is just one of a dozen of people from Lincoln County who came to watch the pleas.

"Well, it's a step in the right direction. We just hope the sentences are harsh and complete and that finally Lincoln County will get some justice," Ramey said. "We all want some justice. This has been going on for 30 to 40 years in our county. It's time that the citizens take Lincoln County back."

The case is still under investigation, but the West Virginia Secretary of State remains steadfast in the message.

"I think that folks can see now that it won't be tolerated. That election law violations, no matter where they take place, won't be tolerated," West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tenant said.

Bowman faces 10 years behind bars; Whitten faces five. Both men face $250,000 in fines, plus three years supervision and restitution.

"Today marks a new era for Lincoln County. The voters were scared to vote before because they didn't know if their vote was going to be counted. I'm just happy for what happened today," Lincoln County resident Pauline Porter said.

While exiting the federal courthouse in Charleston, neither Bowman nor Whitten commented to WSAZ.

Whitten and Bowman are expected back in federal court June 13 to be sentenced.



UPDATE 3/7/12 @ 12:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP & WSAZ) -- Two former Lincoln County officials are facing prison sentences after pleading guilty to charges stemming from an election fraud investigation.

Former Sheriff Jerry Bowman pleaded guilty Wednesday to a conspiracy charge. Former County Clerk Donald Whitten pleaded guilty to lying to an investigator.

Both men are scheduled to be sentenced June 13 in federal court in Charleston. Bowman faces up to 10 years in prison and Whitten faces a maximum five-year sentence.

Prosecutors say Bowman conspired to stuff the 2010 Democratic primary ballot box while running for circuit clerk. Whitten denied to an investigator for the Secretary of State's Office that he had provided absentee ballots to Bowman.

Both men resigned ahead of their plea hearings.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin stated, “A citizen's right to vote is at the very foundation of our constitutional democracy. When votes are bought, sold or obtained by fraud, democracy itself is in peril."

Goodwin continued, “I will not tolerate any attempts from individuals who intend to steal or rig an election in the Southern District of West Virginia. My office will spare no effort and no expense to make sure that individuals who do so are punished.”

Both men declined to comment at the courthouse Wednesday.



UPDATE 3/7/12 @ 10:55 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The former Lincoln County Clerk could face up to five years in prison now that he's pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

Donald Whitten pleaded guilty Wednesday morning at the federal courthouse in Charleston and the judge accepted the plea agreement.

Jerry Bowman was sheriff of Lincoln County and Whitten was its clerk when prosecutors say Bowman conspired to stuff the 2010 Democratic primary ballot box.

Bowman was running for circuit clerk when prosecutors say he sought to steal the primary with fraudulent absentee ballots.

Whitten is accused of lying to an investigator for the Secretary of State's office during a probe of the fraud. Whitten allegedly denied that he had provided absentee ballots to Bowman.

Whitten will be sentenced on June 13 at 9:00 a.m. He could face five years in prison and three years supervised release. The sentence could also include a $250,000 fine.

As part of the plea agreement, Whitten can no longer vote, serve on a jury, possess a firearm or carry a public office.

Whitten is out of jail on a $10,000 bond.

Whitten would not comment as he left the courthouse with his family.

Meanwhile, Bowman's hearing is expected to get underway at 11:00 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Charleston. He is also expected to plead guilty in the case.

We have a crew at the courthouse. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/7/12 @ 7:45 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- They've resigned because of election fraud, and now two former West Virginia county officials are pleading guilty.

Jerry Bowman and Donald Whitten are scheduled to admit to federal felony offenses Wednesday in U.S. District Court under agreements with prosecutors.

Bowman was sheriff of Lincoln County and Whitten was its clerk when prosecutors say Bowman conspired to stuff the 2010 Democratic primary ballot box.

Bowman was running for circuit clerk when prosecutors say he sought to steal the primary with fraudulent absentee ballots.

Whitten is accused of lying to an investigator for the Secretary of State's office during a probe of the fraud. Whitten allegedly denied that he had provided absentee ballots to Bowman.

Both men resigned ahead of their plea hearings.

Whitten arrived at the federal courthouse about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday with his family. Whitten said he had no comment.

WSAZ will be at the two hearings Wednesday morning. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/6/12 @ 9:25 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Sheriff Jerry Bowman resigned Tuesday, a day before his expected guilty plea to federal election fraud charges.

David Vickers was sworn in as interim sheriff Tuesday afternoon. He’ll keep the job until the end of the year. A new term begins in January for the person who is elected to the position in November.

Bowman and Clerk Donald Whitten were charged in January. Prosecutors allege the two men conspired to stuff the ballot box with improper absentee ballots during the 2010 Democratic primary. They agreed to resign from their jobs and never to seek public office again.

The men are expected in court Wednesday morning for a plea hearing.

The county commission accepted Bowman’s resignation during a special meeting Tuesday, and Vickers took over soon after.

"We've lost trust," Vickers said of the community’s reaction to the voter fraud case.

Vickers is a pastor at Sand Fork Missionary Baptist Church. He spent more than 30 years working for the county school system, retiring in 2009 as a maintenance coordinator.

Law enforcement is a new field for him, and he says he’s a little nervous about taking the job. But, he believes his managerial experience will help him to take over and work restore confidence in the office.

He said his goal is to do "something to try to get the trust back, just to try to work with everybody, hoping we can all just trust one another and in return to help our county to trust."

Robert Dingess attends Vickers’ church and attended Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.

"He's my pastor, and he does an excellent job there. And, I think he'll do the same for the people in Lincoln County," Dingess said.

County leaders have been looking for weeks for someone to take over. The County Commission initially appointed Jerry Alford to take the job. But, he had to decline due to conflicts between his private businesses and the sheriff’s position.

WSAZ.com asked Commission President Charles McCann, "What do you think he's going to bring to the office?"

"Well, I think stability. We've been in a little bit of a vacuum here," McCann said.

Though he’ll only be in office about nine months, Vickers still has goals for tackling crime in the county.

He says he’d like to see attention paid to "people that (are) abusing drugs, trying to get it off the street, trying to get them off the street. So, that's going to be my number one priority."

Vickers hasn't ruled out a run for sheriff at some point, but for now he says he wants to see what it’s like to hold the position before making a decision.



UPDATE @ 3/6/12 @ 2:25 p.m.
LINCOLN, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Two elected officials in Lincoln County are expected to plead guilty to criminal charges on Wednesday.

An investigation revealed that Sheriff Jerry Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Bowman even went to people's homes and, in some cases, marked the ballots himself.

Bowman submitted his letter of resignation on Tuesday as part of his plea agreement with federal agents, just a day before his court hearing.

Commission President Charles McCann tells WSAZ.com Bowman called him Monday night and asked him to pick up the resignation letter.

McCann also took an auxiliary sheriff to pick up the letter, along with Bowman's computer and work cellphone because he had not turned anything in until Tuesday.

The commission is meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday to accept his resignation. His resignation will take effect at midnight.

David Vickers was appointed last week as the new sheriff. He will be sworn in right after commissioners accept Bowman's resignation.

County Clerk Donald Whitten also admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters. Whitten has already resigned.

Bowman and Whitten will be in court March 7 to officially plead guilty to the charges.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/2/12 @ 12:30 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Lincoln County will soon have a new sheriff.

Lincoln County Commissioners interviewed two candidates, David Vickers and Cyrus Triplett, on Friday for the top job.

After just 10 minutes in executive session, commissioners appointed Vickers as the new Lincoln County Sheriff.

Vickers is a minister and retired member of the Board of Education. He served 35 years on the board.

Vickers tells WSAZ.com he doesn't intend to seek office, but he wants to bring the county together.

Commissioners wanted to hold a swearing in ceremony on Monday, but a judge advised them that current Sheriff Jerry Bowman has to resign before that can happen.

Bowman has until March 7 to resign after being charged with voter fraud for tampering with absentee ballots in the 2010 election.

Vickers will serve the remainder of Bowman's term, which is approximately 9 months.

This is the second time commissioners have appointed someone to replace Bowman.

Last month, Attorney Jerry Alford was selected to the position, but he later resigned saying the Ethics Commission found that his law practice wound pose a conflict if he served as sheriff.



UPDATE 3/1/12 @ 10:40 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Residents of Lincoln County are one step closer to finding out who their next sheriff will be. Current Sheriff Jerry Bowman has until March 7 to resign after being charged with voter fraud for tampering with absentee ballots in the 2010 election.

At Thursday's Lincoln County Commission meeting, commissioners told the public they had received seven applications for the sheriff's position. They are as follows: Brian Larse, Tim Cecil, Tim Combs, Gary Linvil, Jr., Cyrus Triplet, David Vickers, and Josh Swann.

Commissioners voted Thursday on which applicants they to interview. Only two, Triplet and Vickers, received more than one vote.

Triplet, a school teacher, and Vickers, a maintenance worker for the Board of Education, will be interviewed Friday at the Lincoln County Courthouse at noon.

"It's good to have seven applicants. I think that's good and it shows there are people who are qualified to do the job," Commissioner Charles Vance told WSAZ.com. "I'm hopeful that if we can decide on someone tomorrow we will, if not we'll go back to that list and maybe pick up four or five more and talk to them."

The interviews are open to the public.

The person chosen for the position will serve the remainder Bowman's term, which is approximately 9 months.

This is the second time commissioners have appointed a person to replace Bowman. Attorney Jerry Alford was selected to the position last month, but later resigned.



UPDATE 2/23/12 @ 10:50 a.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Lincoln County Commissioners are again looking for a new interim Sheriff.

Last week, Attorney Jerry Alford was selected to the position.

On Wednesday, Alford sent a letter to commissioners saying he could not accept the position after reviewing the West Virginia code and contacting the W.Va. Secretary of State, the W.Va. Ethnics Commission and the W.Va. Attorney General’s Office.

Thursday morning, Lincoln County Commissioners held a special meeting to accept his non-acceptance.

Commissioner Charles McCann told WSAZ.com, "I've never had this level of frustration in public office before. It's one of those things I think you have to take minute-by-minute, day-by-day and figure out what's best for the county."

McCann said there were two options to fill the position. One of those was to go back to the candidates who already applied and choose from there. The other was to open it up again to new applicants.

McCann said they chose the second option because, "I just felt that maybe since this was such an important position we should readvertise."

"You never know who has an interest and what their qualifications are," McCann said.

Commissioners plan to immediately start a new search for an interim sheriff. Resumes will be accepted until noon on March 1.

Commissioners will then decide on the final candidates at their later that evening. Interviews with those finalists will take place on Friday, March 2. They hope to be able to fill the position by that afternoon.

McCann tells WSAZ.com that after Alford's research, commission will ask potential candidates about similar issues before they offer anyone the job.

Alford was tapped to serve as sheriff through the end of the year after current Sheriff Jerry Bowman was implicated in a federal voter fraud case. Bowman has agreed to resign by March 7. County Clerk Donald Whitten has already resigned in connection with the case.



UPDATE 2/22/12 @ 10:45 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Attorney Jerry Alford, who was selected last week to take over as interim sheriff, announced Wednesday he can’t accept the position.

Alford sent a letter to the Lincoln County Commission. The group will hold an emergency meeting Thursday morning to accept the letter and start a new search for an interim sheriff.

“Unfortunately, upon further investigation of the requirements pertaining to the office of sheriff, I have determined that it is in the best interest of all concerned if I decline your offer,” Alford writes.

Alford was tapped to serve as sheriff through the end of the year after current Sheriff Jerry Bowman was implicated in a federal voter fraud case. Bowman has agreed to resign by March 7. County Clerk Donald Whitten has already resigned in connection with the case.

"I was glad to see (Alford) get it,” says county resident Tony Sammons. “I've met him a few times, and it seemed to me like he was a good person."

Commission President Charles McCann supported Alford.

“Mr. Alford was really an outstanding person to be considered. And being a lawyer, and a successful lawyer, we just felt like it was the thing to do, was to give him that opportunity," McCann says.

In his letter, Alford points out he consulted with the Secretary of State’s office, Attorney General’s office and the West Virginia Ethics Commission.

He says he owns a small business in Lincoln County, operates a family farm, serves as a trustee of a financial trust and serves as a guardian and conservator.

“It appears each of these activities individually precludes me from serving as sheriff. A sheriff must not only devote full time to the performance of his duties, but shall not receive any compensation for any private service or duty,” he writes, citing state code.

Sammons says he's been frustrated by how the voter fraud case has hurt the county and is looking forward to the department coming under new leadership.

“All it does is make Lincoln County look bad," Sammons says.

One of the biggest steps to getting past that is making sure someone's ready to take over.

"Whenever Mr. Bowman has to leave office, then we have to have somebody in place, already bonded, already sworn in, ready to go," says McCann, adding the commission aims to make a new selection next Friday afternoon.



UPDATE 2/22/12 @ 3:30 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Less than a week after he was appointed as the new Lincoln County Sheriff, Attorney Jerry Alford is planning to resign from the post.

Lincoln County Commissioners plan to meet on Thursday at 9 a.m. to accept Alford's resignation.

After his appointment, Alford contacted the Ethics Commission and found that his law practice will pose a conflict if he served as sheriff.

Commissioners say once they accept the resignation, they will begin the process of selecting a new sheriff. They plan to accept more applications and conduct the interviews again.

Commissioners say they will have a new sheriff selected by Friday, March 2.

The appointment is needed because Sheriff Jerry Bowman and former County Clerk Donald Whitten are expected to plead guilty to criminal charges next month.

An investigation revealed that Sheriff Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Bowman even went to people's homes and, in some cases, marked the ballots himself.

Whitten admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters, according to Goodwin. He resigned last week.

Sheriff Bowman has until March to submit his resignation. That's when Alford was supposed to take over as Lincoln County Sheriff. So far, Bowman has not submitted a letter of resignation.

The new candidate for sheriff can't take over until Bowman resigns.



UPDATE 2/17/12 @ 9:30 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's out with the old in Lincoln County after a voter fraud investigation brought down two local leaders.

Sheriff Jerry Bowman and Clerk Donald Whitten are resigning.

The County Commission picked their replacements Friday. The commission chose attorney Jerry Alford to serve as interim sheriff and Myrl Gue to serve as interim clerk.

A couple people who worked for Bowman and Whitten tried to get their jobs.

"This department lacks leadership, and they know I'll step up and do what I need to do," says Jamison Linville, a county deputy who sought the sheriff’s position. He argued it would make for an easier transition to hire someone who already works in the department.

"We know what the law is now. And, if I am in charge, it will be followed to the T,” says Kristie Scraggs, an employee in the clerk’s office who applied for the clerk’s position.

But, the county commission had a different plan. Commissioner Charles Vance, in particular, expressed concern about allowing existing employees to move up to the top positions.

“I think one of the things we need to get by here in Lincoln County is nepotism and cronyism. That's really the basis of a lot of what we see go on around here. And, I don't want anybody to think that just because someone works at the court house, they can get a job," Vance says.

Gue currently serves as mayor of West Hamlin and will have to resign that position to take the clerk’s job.

“I have something to offer. And, I'd like to give something back to this county," Gue says.

Alford said in order to take as over as sheriff, he would transfer his responsibilities as an attorney in the county to another person, so that he could focus on the sheriff’s position full time.

“They have no connection to the prior shenanigans that went on here in the county," Vance says.

These men will serve until the end of the year when the next election happens. The newly elected sheriff’s and clerk’s terms would begin Jan. 1, 2013.

Commissioner Thomas Ramey voted for the sheriff's replacement, but then abstained from the vote on the clerk saying he was doing so “out of respect for people in the county.”

But, he didn't elaborate beyond that.

The local Democrats and Republicans still have to meet to nominate people to run in the clerk's race. The sheriff’s position was already on the ballot this year.



UPDATE 2/17/12 @ 10:15 a.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Lincoln County will soon have a new county clerk and sheriff.

During a meeting Friday, commissioners interviewed several people for the positions.

The interviews were public. After the interviews, commissioners went into executive session to decide who would be appointed.

Commissioners unanimously voted to appoint Jerry Alford as the county's next sheriff.

Alford is a local attorney. During his interview, Alford told commissioners he would give up his practice if he was appointed sheriff.

Myrl Gue will serve as county clerk. The vote was 2 to 0. Commissioner Thomas Ramey abstained from the vote.

These two people will serve out the current term. Voters will elect a new sheriff in November. Alford is not on the November ballot.

County Clerk will be up for reelection in two years.

Both appointments were needed because Sheriff Jerry Bowman and former County Clerk Donald Whitten are expected to plead guilty to criminal charges next month.

An investigation revealed that Sheriff Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Bowman even went to people's homes and, in some cases, marked the ballots himself.

Whitten admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters, according to Goodwin. He resigned Thursday.

Sheriff Bowman has until March to submit his resignation. That's when Alford will take over as Lincoln County Sheriff.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 2/16/12 @ 8:27 a.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Lincoln County Commission is in the process of interviewing candidates to fill the vacancies of sheriff and county clerk.

The interviews got underway at 8 a.m. Friday.

Both posts need filled because Sheriff Jerry Bowman and former County Clerk Donald Whitten are expected to plead guilty to criminal charges next month.

An investigation revealed that Sheriff Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Bowman even went to people's homes and, in some cases, marked the ballots himself.

Whitten admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters, according to Goodwin. He resigned Thursday. The sheriff has until March to submit his resignation.

On Thursday, Lincoln County Commissioners narrowed down the list of their replacements. Four people were granted interviews for the sheriff's position, but Mike Hatfield withdrew his name. Jamison Linville, Jerry Alford and Myrl Gue were all interviewed for the position on Friday.

Linville is currently a deputy for the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department.

During his interview, Linville told commissioners that he believes the sheriff's department lacks leadership and he wants to bring back pride to the force.

Linville is not a full fledged police officer because he hasn't taken a required test. Linville told commissioners during his interview that he was injured and can't take it until May.

Jerry Alford is a local attorney. During his interview, Alford told commissioners he would give up his practice if he was appointed sheriff. However, Alford says if commissioners find someone who is more qualified he would have no hard feelings if he wasn't chosen.

Myrl Gue is the mayor of West Hamlin. He has applied for both sheriff and county clerk. His interview is expected to happen about 9:00 a.m. Friday.

Then, Kristie Scraggs will also be interviewed for county clerk.

The interviews are open to the public.

Commissioners are expected to make a decision today on who will fill the vacancies.

We have a crew at the commission meeting. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 2/16/12 @ 6 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Lincoln County Clerk has resigned from his post after the feds say he admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters.

During a meeting Thursday, Lincoln County Commissioners voted to accept Donald Whitten's resignation. His resignation will take effect on February 29.

An investigation revealed that Sheriff Jerry Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Bowman even went to people's homes and, in some cases, marked the ballots himself.

Whitten admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters, according to Goodwin.

Commissioners announced Thursday that seven people applied for Whitten's spot as county clerk, including his son, Donnie.

However, his son wasn't selected for an interview during Thursday's meeting. Two people will be interviewed for county clerk, Myrl Gue and Kristie Scraggs.

"One of the things that is concerning is that one of the candidates for the county clerks office is currently working in the county clerks office and was over the elections last time,” Commissioner Charles Vance said.

"A lot of them are just moving on up into office like it's a promotion,” Lincoln County resident David Miller said.

The county received six applicants for sheriff. Four people will be interviewed Friday. They are: Jamisen Linville, Myrl Gue, Jerry Alford and Mike Hatfield.

Lincoln County Commission President Charles McCann said he’s not concerned about the process to appoint new people to the vacant positions.

"I think that whatever selection is made it will be people who are very capable of doing the job," McCann said.

Sheriff Bowman has not yet resigned. He has until the court hearing on March 7 to resign. That's also when the US Attorney says Bowman and Whitten will plead guilty to the charges.

Commissioners will begin the interview process to fill the county clerk spot Friday at 8 a.m. The interviews will be open to the public.

The appointed sheriff will only hold the position until the election in November. That person will not be on the ballot. An executive committee will appoint a candidate for county clerk that will be put on the November ballot.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 2/16/12 @ 11:30 a.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Lincoln County Clerk has resigned from his post after the feds say he admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters.

During a meeting Thursday, Lincoln County Commissioners voted to accept Donald Whitten's resignation. His resignation will take effect on February 29.

An investigation revealed that Sheriff Jerry Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Bowman even went to people's homes and, in some cases, marked the ballots himself.

Whitten admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters, according to Goodwin.

Commissioners announced Thursday that seven people applied for Whitten's spot as county clerk, including his son, Donnie.

However, his son wasn't selected for an interview during Thursday's meeting.

Meanwhile, the county has received six applicants for sheriff. So far Sheriff Bowman has not resigned. He has until the court hearing on March 7 to resign. That's also when the US Attorney says Bowman and Whitten will plead guilty to the charges.

Commissioners will begin the interview process to fill the county clerk spot Friday at 8 a.m. The interviews will be open to the public.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 2/2/12 @ 12:05 a.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Two elected officials in Lincoln County will be in federal court next month to admit to the charges.

An investigation revealed that Sheriff Jerry Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Bowman even went to people's homes and, in some cases, marked the ballots himself.

County Clerk Donald Whitten admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand-delivered to voters.

Goodwin says these types of issues are hurting the election system's credibility.

Bowman and Whitten will be in court March 7 to officially plead guilty to the charges. Both men have agreed to resign before that date.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 1/30/12 @ 6 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Two elected officials in Lincoln County are facing federal charges in connection with election fraud.

The sheriff and the county clerk plan to plead guilty to federal charges involving the 2010 primary election.

Now, 20 months later the investigation has revealed that Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman helped fill out more than 100 absentee ballots for voters that weren't even eligible to vote absentee.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Bowman went to people's homes and, in some cases, even marked the ballots himself.

County Clerk Donald Whitten is also facing federal charges in connection with the scheme.

He admitted to lying about having absentee ballots hand delivered to voters.

In their plea agreements, both Bowman and Whitten agreed to never seek or hold public office again. They must both resign before officially pleading guilty. No court dates have been set at this time.

Word about the charges against the sheriff and county clerk spread quickly in Lincoln County, and the reactions were mixed. Some people were surprised, while others said they knew it was coming.

Jason Edwards lives in Lincoln County and knows voter fraud has been a problem for some time.

"Whether it was somebody who helped hand the ballots out or drove them, they all ought to be punished," Edwards said.

Charles McCann, president of the Lincoln County Commission, says he was shocked by the news about his sheriff and county clerk.

“It's basically one of those things you're never ready for, but when it comes you have to deal with it and do the best you can, take whatever responsibilities. But at this time I cannot offer a comment," McCann said.

While some are angry, others believe Bowman and Whitten didn't know that what they were doing was wrong, even though the men admit now that they did.

"From the time of the election we knew there had been things that had been questioned, things about the absentee voting. But I don't think anybody knew that there was this much investigation going on," McCann said.

"Lincoln County has been this way for a long time. For people to say they didn't know what they were doing, well that's your job to know," Edwards said.

Only a few hours after the news conference, a sheriff’s deputy told WSAZ.com officials from the secretary of state's office were at the Lincoln County Courthouse speaking with Commissioner McCann. It’s unclear what they were doing.

The next county commission meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday.



UPDATE 1/30/12 @ 10 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP & WSAZ) -- Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman and Clerk Donald Whitten will plead guilty to charges that they attempted to flood the 2010 Democratic primary with fraudulent absentee ballots, becoming the latest southern West Virginia officeholders ensnared by an investigation into election fraud, federal and state officials announced Monday.

Bowman has agreed to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.

He is accused of trying to stuff the ballot box in his favor while running for circuit clerk, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said.

Whitten will plead guilty to lying to a retired FBI agent hired by Tennant to investigate the influx of absentee ballots in that primary.

A judge later threw out more than 300 contested absentee ballots, reversing Bowman's initial victory and securing the nomination for incumbent Circuit Clerk Charles Brownfield.

Bowman and Whitten have agreed to resign by the time of their plea hearing, which are not yet scheduled, and have already begun cooperating with investigators.

Their plea agreements, filed Monday, mention but do not identify co-conspirators. Prosecutors say the investigation continues.

Bowman, who is finishing his second term as sheriff and cannot seek a third under the state constitution, signed his plea agreement last week.

Having won his latest term as clerk in 2010, Whitten agreed to plead guilty under a deal signed in late December.

Fearing a close race, Bowman allegedly conspired with Whitten and an unidentified candidate for county commission to visit voters and ask them to apply for absentee ballots, according to Bowman's plea agreement.

"The Candidates further agreed that they would complete absentee ballot applications for voters," the agreement documents said. "The Candidates also agreed that on those applications they would state certain reasons that voters were legally eligible to vote absentee, regardless of whether those reasons were true."

Bowman went on to fill out more than 100 absentee ballot applications, and for most "knowingly and intentionally provided false reasons for voters' eligibility to vote absentee," the filing said. It further alleged that Bowman would later revisit the voters once their absentee ballots arrived, telling most how to vote and marking at least six of these ballots himself.

Bowman also is accused of illegally delivering ballots to voters, his plea agreement said. Whitten is accused of lying to the retired FBI agent when he denied providing those absentee ballots.

The charges against Whitten and Bowman arrive just six years after several Lincoln and Logan county officials and others pleaded guilty to charges arising from a federal vote-buying probe. That case was triggered by the 2004 Democratic primary. Those convicted included then-Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Greg Stowers and county Assessor Jerry Weaver. Though he resigned at the time, Weaver is now running for county sheriff.

Besides resigning, Bowman and Whitten have agreed to swear off future public office or political campaigning, according to the deals each signed.

Monday's press conference at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston follows Saturday's deadline for candidates to file in this year's elections. With the primary set for May 8, an array of federal, state and county offices are on the ballot.

"I do not allow the integrity of the election process to be compromised," Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said. "You've heard me say it before -- you'll hear me say it again; I do not tolerate election law violations by anyone regardless of party or position."

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



ORIGINAL STORY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- An investigation of election fraud in West Virginia is coming to light.

A Monday news conference is expected to provide details from a fraud probe in the state's southern federal court district.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant are conducting the press event at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse.

The news comes just after West Virginia ended its 2012 candidate filing period.

A 2004 federal vote-buying probe led to guilty pleas by several elected Democratic officials in Logan and Lincoln counties. One of those convicted, former Lincoln County Assessor Jerry Weaver, is now running for sheriff.

More recently, a judge threw out more than 300 contested absentee ballots in Lincoln County's 2010 Democratic primary. That changed the outcome in the circuit clerk's race.

The news conference is set for 10 a.m. Monday at the federal courthouse in Charleston.

We will have a crew at the news conference. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.


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