LOGAN, W.Va. — As the U.S. wrapped up the primary election season June 7, the results of the May 10 primary election in Logan County remained in limbo.
After results for the non-partisan race for circuit judge in the seventh judicial circuit ended with candidates Douglas Witten and Joshua Butcher with in 59 votes of each other, Witten requested a recount of several districts.
At the May 25 recount, only one precinct was manually recounted; however, totals listed on voting machine paper trails were compared to the official canvas totals for the remaining precincts.
For each precinct that was recounted or rechecked, the voter rolls matched totals from the official canvas, and neither candidate gained or lost a single vote in the recount process.
After the May 25 recount ended with Joshua Butcher being certified the winner of the circuit judge race, Witten had 10 days to file papers contesting the results of the election.
The Logan Banner was able to obtain Witten’s official notice of election contest filed with the clerk of the House of Delegates on June 6.
Witten begins his case by alleging the election was unduly influenced by the bloody attack on the candidate for the seventh senatorial district Richard Ojeda just days before the vote.
The document states voting that occurred on election day in Logan County, “was influenced in its entirety by the dissemination of materially false information regarding an allegedly politically motivated assault on a candidate…for the West Virginia State Senate…”
The papers go on to say the purpose of the information was to sway voters away from the other candidate for the seventh district senate seat, Art Kirkendoll — a man with whom Witten was identified.
Witten also argues fraud or misconduct nullifies all of the ballots cast at five separate polling places in Logan County.
In precinct one, Witten sites an irregularity in which ten more people voted than signed the poll books.
The documents allege those ten extra ballots were cast by nonexistent voters which makes the result of the election in the precinct, “…impossible to ascertain.”
At precinct 31, it is alleged none of the commissioners or poll clerks took the oath for the position as prescribed by the secretary of state thusly voiding the results.
Witten alleges results at precinct four should be thrown out because Jamie Butcher, Joshua Butcher’s wife, engaged in electioneering within 300 feet of the polling place.
The documents state, “Jame Butcher…spent most of the hours when the polls were open at precinct four…standing or walking within 300 feet of the entrance…carrying a sign and espousing the candidacy of her husband.”
Finally, Witten states election irregularities in early voting as well as election day voting in precincts two, 49 and 53 were, “…committed to such an extent as prevented the expression of the will of the voters of Logan County.”
State code 3-7-3 states a three person panel should be sworn to hear Witten’s case contesting the election.
In such a case Witten, Joshua Butcher and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin will each choose a member of the tribunal.
Joshua Butcher’s, lawyer Ryan Donovan, released the following statement in response the notice of election contest:
“This contest is, in a word, frivolous. Unbelievably, Judge Witten claims that every single vote cast should be thrown out simply because the voters were “influenced” by reports about a controversy between two different candidates in a different race. The rest of the petition amounts to nothing more than the claim that a few poll workers failed to complete some paperwork properly. Those issues had no impact on the election, and have already been looked into and cleared up by the Secretary of State. If these were grounds for disenfranchising voters, no election in West Virginia would ever be safe again.”
Joshua Butcher released the following statement:
“I am disappointed to see that Judge Witten has gone to such lengths to challenge the clearly expressed will of the voters. None of the allegations contained in this petition rises to the level of justifying the throwing out of entire precincts – not to mention they are false. The allegations unnecessarily call into question the credibility of a lot of good people who volunteered or worked during the elections. I appreciate a process exists for real cases of fraud, however, I do not appreciate the abuse of this process in an attempt to simply change the result. Each step has cost me time and money. I have had to hire an attorney, who can concentrate on this while I try to work and provide for my family. I pray that politics are not permitted to interfere with what is supposed to be a fair and anonymous system that allows the voice of the voter to speak without fear of repercussion. I also hate that there are voters who have to sit and wonder if their vote will count.”
Owen Wells is a reporter for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-752-6950 ext. 1729 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.