(05/27/2008)
There are big problems over the Primary Election in Clay County.

Clay County has 41 missing ballots, a discovery made during or after the county's canvass.

The missing ballot problem comes amid a recount that starts Friday in Clay and Gilmer over the tight race between Clay's David Walker and Calhoun's Ron Blankenship.

The top vote getting candidates are vying for a House of Delegates seat in the 33rd District.

The tally in the race following the canvass of provisional (challenged) ballots appears to be: Walker, 1,200 and Blankenship 1,188.

Because of the missing ballots, Clay has been unable to certify their Primary Election results.

The Clay Commission will be doing a special face count of Precinct 37 starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, where the 41 ballots are missing.

Precinct 37 is Walker's home precinct.

Clay and Gilmer use paper ballots with a computerized optical scanning machine to count.

Blankenship said the Clay Commission counted challenged ballots where voters were registered in one precinct but lived and voted in another.

Former Clay commissioner Jimmy Sams, who attended the Calhoun canvass, told Clay Commission members, "In Calhoun they count all and everything."

Sams was likely referring to about a dozen ballots the Calhoun commission counted where voters voted out of their registered precinct.

Despite Sams' complaint, Clay County commissioners counted numerous challenged ballots of voters registered in one precinct but living and voting in another, a situation raising more serious questions.

Calhoun has historically counted challenged ballots of voters who are officially registered and living in a precinct, but voting in another.

In one case, a voter went to his polling place which was not yet open, and stopped in another polling place and voted, so he would not be late for work.

"We were not about to take a vote away from a citizen for this," said Commission President Bob Weaver.

Weaver said the practice in Calhoun is different, in that the county has a single county-wide uniform ballot.

County Clerk Richard Kirby says it creates no problems when a voter votes in another precinct, but such a practice in Clay and Gilmer, with the counties precincts split into House and Senatorial districts, is more questionable.

Weaver said counting such ballots is just as fair as early voting, which does not consider precinct origin, just the fact the voter is registered.

"We treated Walker's group very professionally," he said.

The review of Calhoun's 36 provisional ballots, originally called challenged ballots, resulted in 27 of the ballots being approved and nine discounted. The discounted ballots were mostly voters who were not registered, or in one case an individual attempted to vote twice.

A number of the contested ballots in all counties involved poll workers who worked out of their registered district, but nonetheless contested.

Former Clay commissioner Sams and Walker's daughter, Stephanie Ahart, represented Walker's interests during Calhoun's canvass, and went on record protesting 12 approved ballots.

Their protesting did not have official weight, unless the matter had been moved into a recount.

Walker failed to make the deadline for a recount in Calhoun.

A representative for Blankenship requested a copy of the provisional (challenged) ballots last week, but Clay Clerk Connie Workman had problems issuing the public information document.

Workman, who called the Clay County Sheriff to be present during the conversation, told the representative it might be May 30th before she could provide the list.

A intervention request regarding the matter was made to the Secretary of State's office.

Workman then provided the document the following day, under expressed intention of a Freedom of Information request.


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