McCallister clings to one-vote victory margin

Ron Gregory

May 30, 2014

HAMLIN — And then it was one.

After the Lincoln County commission, meeting as a recount board, ruled on ballots Friday morning, Democrat challenger Gary McCallister had ousted incumbent Delegate Josh Barker from one of two seats in the state house of delegates. The 22nd district, made up of parts of Boone, Lincoln, Logan and Putnam counties, is represented by two delegates. In the May 13 Democrat primary, Democrat Jeff Eldridge led the field of three by a wide margin. After canvassing was completed in the four counties last week, McCallister and Barker were tied for the second nomination. But following Friday’s recount rulings in Lincoln, McCallister escaped with a one-vote margin of victory.

That means, unless a contest or challenge alters the results, Eldridge and McCallister will face Republican challengers Michel Moffatt and Justin Mullins in November.

The possibility of such a contest was on the minds of most election observers when the results from Lincoln were announced Friday morning. Among issues of controversy are Lincoln’s decision not to count votes from those who were registered in the county but voted at the wrong precinct. Several other West Virginia counties routinely count such votes. There was as many as 20 of those not counted in Lincoln.

In its Friday meeting, the commission quickly put that question to rest for the time being by voting unanimously to uphold their earlier decision not to count such ballots. That left a remaining question about eight ballots. According to County Clerk Diril Baker, five of those ballots were inadvertently counted election night so they did not show up in new totals listed after the canvass. That left three ballots. Baker said two of those had not been located and a third was added to this week’s total. When that was done, McCallister and Eldridge each picked up one vote but Barker remained stagnant. The result was the one-vote win for McCallister.

Barker had said earlier that he would “accept the recount decision, even if Gary wins” by just one vote.” However, representatives of Barker said late Friday that the delegate is “still weighing his options.” Ben White, a Chapmanville lawyer working for Barker, added, “We are still wondering about those questionable ballots. We think all the voters had a right to have their votes recorded, if they live in Lincoln County. We also are concerned about the two votes that are ‘missing’ or however you want to describe it.”

White said Barker had “not given the go-ahead for us to do anything. Right now, I think he is taking his time to decide what is right and proper.”

Whatever he decides, Barker has ten days to issue a contest of the election to the county commission. At that time, testimony could be taken, ballots re-examined and all issues determined. Following that, either candidate could go to the circuit court although McCallister is “obviously not going to contest or challenge the results if he is ahead,” White said.

The race has major implications regarding control of the next session of the house of delegates, to convene in 2015. It is assumed McCallister, who had widespread labor support in the primary, would back the continued tenure of Delegate Tim Miley as speaker. Barker is viewed as more pro-business and might not back Miley in a race that could be determined by one or two votes.

Regardless, the outcome is perilous at best and McCallister may face a divided Democrat constituency if he and Barker cannot mend fences before November.