Holy voter fraud, Batman! The first cries of voter fraud have been heard in the foothills of Lincoln County, West Virginia. In Lincoln County, a tight race is being contested for the office of county commissioner by Democratic challenger Phoebe Harless. In last Tuesday's election, incumbent Thomas Ramey, Jr. appeared to have lost the primary challenge to the upstart Harless by a scant 95 votes at the polls.
However, the momentum shifted after early ballots and absentee votes were counted. After these votes were tabulated, Ramey secured a victory with a margin of 477 votes. People might ask, so what's the problem with this? Democracy in action, right? As the great sports mind Lee Corso often quips, "Not so fast, sweetheart!"
According to the 2000 Census, Lincoln County's population is approximately 22,000. Of that population, Census data reports nearly 23.6% of residents in the county, or 5,192 residents, were under the age of 18 and ineligible to vote. According to last week's election results, 1,213 voters cast an early ballot or absentee ballot -- which calculates to approximately 7.2% of the voting population. This number seems abnormally high, particularly for a primary election in which many citizens simply don't vote rather than go through the process of filling out an early or absentee ballot.
By comparison, the surrounding counties of Kanawha, McDowell, Cabell and Logan experienced significantly lower percentages of early or absentee voting. Kanawha County has nine times the population as Lincoln County, yet had only 219 requests for absentee ballots. Similar disparities were evident when Lincoln County was compared to the other surrounding counties.
Harless and State Senator Ron Stollings (his district includes Lincoln County) petitioned the West Virginia State Supreme Court to compel county election officials to challenge the additional votes that tipped the nod in favor of Ramey. The petition was promptly rejected, with the Court adding a motion was premature at this point.
Harless believes, among numerous violations, county officials went door to door with pre-marked ballots in an effort to sway the election. According to today's Charleston Gazette, Senator Stollings also claims he "sent a tape to the U.S. district attorney's office in Charleston that allegedly records someone offering to pay a person to send in a pre-marked absentee ballot."
Ramey, in his defense, stated, "We were better organized grassroots. Our strategy worked ... There was nothing illegal about it." Ramey does admit he gave out lists of suggested candidates to potential voters in the county, but did not give out a pre-marked absentee ballot to anyone. He also noted, "People in Lincoln County are being dragged through the mud because they participated in the democratic process ... They took advantage of a legal avenue to cast a vote when their polling place and early voting place were inaccessible to them."
Regardless of whether Ramey's defense is believable, a thorough investigation is warranted in this situation. The integrity of elections is one of the most important principles of our democracy. Allowing this election reesult to stand with no challenge would be irresponsible and border on the criminal. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.once stated, "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Lincoln County needs to be the line in the sand. No more voter/election fraud in West Virginia.