Mingo County Prosecutor Duke Jewell was able to hold on to his position following the general election canvass held last week. The canvass was originally set to be held on Nov. 10 but was delayed because the Mingo County Clerk’s Office was closed because of a COVID-19 exposure.
While election canvasses are generally a perfunctory procedure, this year brought new attention to the event because a mere 12 votes separated the Democratic incumbent Jewell and his Republican Challenger Brock Mounts for the office of Mingo County Prosecutor. In question were 10 absentee ballots, 82 provisional ballots and three other ballots with special circumstances that had to be validated.
However, only 28 provisional ballots of the 82 were counted with the remainder being deemed properly challenged. According to Mingo County Clerk Judy Harvey, a provisional ballot occurs when someone comes to the precinct to vote but their vote is challenged by a poll worker. The voter casts his or her ballot which is sealed inside two special envelopes and submitted for consideration.
“A voter is never turned away and not allowed to vote,” Harvey said. “The board of canvassers reviews the challenge and then decides if the ballot will be counted.”
The most common challenges were that voters were voting in the wrong precinct or not registered and election officers working at and voting in polling places outside their registered precincts.
At the beginning of the process, Commissioner Greg ‘Hootie” Smith explained how the canvass would work to those attending. Mounts, during that time, brought into question the problem experienced on election night. The all-area early voting machine located in the courthouse did not record all of the votes cast because of a poll worker error. All ballots from that machine were reran on election night. Mounts asked if the votes from that machine would be recounted during the canvass.
Chris Adler, who represented the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office during the local canvass, said that decision would be at the discretion of the board of canvassers – which consisted of Smith and Commission President Diann Hannah. Commissioner Thomas Taylor was absent because of illness.
“There were 1,558 votes cast on that machine,” Deputy Clerk Angie Browning informed the canvassing board. “It will be about a four-hour process to recount them.”
Jewell went on the record being against having the votes counted a second time.
“I object to that. There is no statute for that,” Jewell said. “It could affect the validity of the count.”
Hannah and Smith later agreed to recount the votes.
“Out of an abundance of caution, I make a motion to recount the results of the early voting machine located in the courthouse.” Smith said
Because the first part of the canvass ran so long, the canvass was recessed until Friday morning for the recounting of the questioned voting machine.
Friday afternoon, the official count showed Jewell had increased his lead to 16 votes. The final election results report was released and listed 4.773 votes for Jewell with 4,757 votes going for Mounts.
The official canvass determined that the winning candidates in each race announced on election night were accurate with no changes being made. The results of the general early voting machine recorded the same numbers as previously recorded on election night. The Mingo County Commission will certify the election at its next meeting.
“I want to commend the County Commission who acted as the board of canvassers. I think they did a great job in doing this in a very efficient manner and fair manner,” Jewell said. “I’m happy and relieved that the results did not change. I look forward to serving the people of Mingo County. It’s an honor.”
A canvass is conducted after every election to resolve all challenges and to finalize the election night results.