Both sides in unsettled state Senate race ask for information about balloting

Two sides of a state Senate race that remains in question have asked the Mingo County Commission to make voting information available for review by today.

“The parties agree that they, and the voters, are best served by prompt determination of which candidate will appear on the ballot in the general election,” lawyers for incumbent Sen. Chandler Swope and challenger Craig Hart wrote in a joint motion filed last week.

The two sides have also requested a procedural hearing before the Mingo County Commission around the beginning of July to discuss how to proceed.

A full hearing on the question has been set for July 18.

All this positioning is occurring after Swope, who apparently lost a primary re-election bid, filed an official challenge earlier this month to results in Mingo County. Swope is asking to examine poll books across Mingo County for irregularities.

After primary election results came in for the swath of a district that includes all of Mercer County and parts of Wayne, McDowell and Mingo counties, Swope got 4,384 votes. That put him behind Hart, a Lenore resident who got 4,847 votes. Another candidate, former Delegate Eric Porterfield, wound up with 2,633 votes.

Lawyers for Swope want to know more about what happened in Mingo County voting precincts where Hart received 2,152 votes, Swope got 364 votes and Porterfield got 344 votes.

The June 5 filing by Swope also contends Republican voter turnout in Mingo County was out of line with what happened elsewhere in the state: “Voter turnout numbers across Mingo County suggest county-wide discrepancies that potentially affected every precinct in the county.”

That filing on behalf of Swope contends that the numbers and accounts by voters show that “many Mingo County voters were improperly given a choice as to which primary they wanted to participate in, rather than simply being given the ballot of their respective party registration. These issues span multiple precincts and in all likelihood explain the unusually high number of Republican ballots submitted.”

“Unfortunately, it appears that the 2024 primary election, at least in part, in Mingo County may have been ‘irreversibly tainted,’ according to the challenge filed on behalf of Swope.

“Accordingly, in each precinct wherein those irregularities are found to have occurred all votes cast in the primary election for West Virginia’s 6th Senate District should be excluded.”

Both Swope and Hart are Republicans. The winner of the Democratic primary was Randall Fowler of Bluefield, who was unopposed.

The situation was discussed last Friday during a meeting of the state Elections Commission.

“The public information that we’re able to disclose is that the data does seem to suggest a significant number of Republican ballots were cast in Mingo County,” said Deak Kersey, chief of staff for the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office. “There have been a number of people in the county, candidates and officials, who have thoughts on why that might have occurred.”

First, he said, there was not a highly contested Democratic race in the primary, so many voters might have asked for the Republican ballot because there were more choices. Second is the possibility of pollworker error — with a question of whether voters were given an option to select the ballot of their choice even if they’re registered with a political party. Third, independent voters might have overwhelmingly selected Republican ballots.

“The outcome here, what’s being demanded, is that those ballots get thrown out from all of those precincts that had a high percentage of turnout; I believe the candidate named six or seven precincts,” Kersey said. “It has been done in the past. There is precedent for courts throwing out whole precincts if you can’t rely on the outcome, but it is a high bar. So we will be paying very close attention to that because it would mean that all of those voters won’t get counted for the Senate race.”

Republican political adviser Greg Thomas, who works closely with members of the state Senate’s majority, questioned what happened in Mingo County.

“We’re getting to the bottom of it,” Thomas said last week on Dave Allen Today on WCHS Radio. “After the election, there were a whole lot of Democrats calling the Republican candidates and saying ‘Hey, I got to vote for you.’ And everybody was like ‘Oh gosh, how were you able to vote for me?’ We started looking around, and we looked at the precinct results and you had precincts that had 97% Republican turnout and 92 and 88.

“We do think something’s amiss down there.”