Westover City Council seat could be decided with a coin flip

According to West Virginia Code, the future makeup of Westover City Council may come down to a coin flip, a slip of paper pulled from a hat or some other game of chance. 

Tuesday’s primary election ended with two of the four Westover City Council candidates tied for third in a race for three at-large council seats. 

Based on the unofficial totals, Randy Barnett and Mark Gall secured seats with 425 and 395 votes, respectively, while incumbents Edie Viola and Duane Tatar both received 313 votes. 

All eyes now turn to Monday’s canvassing process. 

It is during canvassing that the Monongalia County Commission — sitting as the county’s canvassing board — looks at each provisional ballot cast and determines whether each ballot will be included in the certified election results.  

A provisional ballot is one that is cast but not counted until a determination is made on its validity. The voter not being registered in Monongalia County is one of the most common reasons provisional ballots are denied. 

For context, the canvassing board looked at 145 provisional ballots in the November 2022 election. Of that number, 55 were counted. 

The board also checks the validity of any late-arriving absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day. 

While she didn’t have an exact number, Monongalia County Clerk Carye Blaney told The Dominion Post she believes “a few” of the provisional ballots to be checked Monday were cast by Westover voters. 

As of Thursday, none of the late-arriving absentee ballots were from Westover. 

Because Westover voters were instructed to select three of the four council candidates on the ballot, even a small number of approved provisional ballots may not break the tie. 

Then what? 

W.Va. Code 8-5-15 explains, “Whenever two or more individuals shall receive an equal number of legal votes for the same office … the individuals under whose supervision the election is held shall decide by lot which of them shall be returned as elected and shall make their return accordingly.” 

To decide “by lot” means to decide by chance. 

If needed, it will be up to the board of canvassers to determine exactly how that occurs. 

“The board of canvassers would determine by either a flip of a coin, drawing names, etc., who the winner of the contest would be,” Blaney explained. 

Both Viola and Tatar said they plan to observe the canvassing process, which will take place Monday in the county’s Mountaineer Mall election headquarters. 

“We might as well go and see what happens and figure out if either one of us has any more votes,” Viola said. 

Viola was first elected to Westover Council in 1996. This is her second electoral tie. 

She and Donald Godfrey tied for a council seat in the city’s 2000 election, but Godfrey conceded the seat rather than have the city conduct any kind of special election. 

Because the city’s elections are now conducted by the county clerk in conjunction with the primary election, the tie will be broken in the manner prescribed by the state. 

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’ll see what happens, I guess,” Viola said. 

Tatar said he was pleased moving the city’s standalone election in line with the primary had the desired result of increased voter participation. 

According to Blaney, approximately 750 ballots were cast by Westover residents. Less than 150 participated in the city’s 2022 standalone election.

Tatar also said he was more than a little surprised at how the council vote turned out. 

“I guess we’ll go and see how it all shakes out and whoever gets it, gets it,” he said, offering his own suggestions in the event a tiebreaker is needed. 

“Heck, maybe we can play musical chairs or something; rock, paper, scissors. Let’s make it fun.”