Republicans win big after long-awaited election tally

Monday, November 13, 2006

Forty-eight hours after polls closed, Carroll County finally had a list of certified winners from the election commission Thursday night, and for Republicans, it was worth the wait.

The certified totals gave victories to Bryan King for state representative of District 91, to Richard Williams for county judge, to Bob Grudek for sheriff -- all Republicans -- and to four of the seven Republicans vying in contested positions on the quorum court.

Carroll County had the attention of both Republican and Democratic bigwigs as what appeared to be minor glitches in vote-counting Tuesday night had racheted up into a battle of wills Thursday.

Several Republican candidates who were leading in preliminary tallies -- including King and Williams, accompanied by the newly-hired lawyer for the county's Republican Party, Cindy Baker -- stood watch over the on-again, off-again vote count well into the Wednesday morning vote count.

Early preliminary totals, released Wednesday morning, put King 298 votes ahead of his Democratic rival, Merlin Leach. Williams was ahead of incumbent Democrat Ulys Smith in the county judge's race, 4069 to 3971. Republican contender for the sheriff's office, Robert Grudek, led incumbent Democrat Chuck Medford, 4730 to 3307. Republicans led in four of the seven contested justice of the peace races. Those numbers did not include 175 absentee ballots.

Baker filed a complaint Wednesday morning, noting that the envelope containing 175 absentee ballots had not been opened in public view. By 10 a.m. -- nearly 14 hours after all voting had ended and ballot boxes had been delivered to the Eastern District Courthouse -- the process was halted by Election Commission Chairman Levi Phillips, who said he declined from signing off on the "preliminary unofficial vote totals" because he was not provided with precinct-by-precinct under and over numbers, and the machine did not merge the results from general paper ballots, early vote ballots and absentee ballots.

Phillips told a weary crowd on onlookers and election workers that the process would resume on Thursday at 9 a.m.

Republicans showed up Thursday morning en masse with their state executive director, Clint Reed, who wanted to know why the preliminary results could not be certified.

Phillips, nor the election commission attorney, Bill Putman, would be deterred from continuing a full recount. "This is not a recount," Putman said. "Right now, the results are not certified and there is not an official vote total. Therefore it cannot be a recount."

"I am not verifying anything until I can get over and under numbers and in a format," said Election Commissioner Levi Phillips Thursday referring to his reason for the second counting of the votes.

"We want a total and accurate account of our general election and if we're not willing to get a total and accurate account, then it's dead wrong," said Phillips.

He said that on election night, an ES&S ballot counter administrator advised the commission to zero the machine out between the poll votes, the early votes and the absentee votes, and told them he could merge the votes together after the fact. "That didn't happen."

Reed continued to ask why a second preliminary total was needed when there "already was one. Why are we going through this again?"

Putman replied that the public should be happy with the transparent process and asked "What's the problem doing this the way the Commission wants to?"

At that point the election commissioners unanimously voted to re-count the challenged absentee ballots and then after a short recess, election workers began the entire process again.

During the "audit," poll watchers observed nine more ballots in the Holiday Island precinct than signatures listed at the poll site; a second challenge was then entered by the head of the Carroll County Republicans, Harley Barnum.

Also questioned was a discrepancy in the signatures versus ballots in the North Yockum precinct. Both of the questioned precinct ballots were placed in separate boxes and sealed as the audit continued.

Then before workers were to begin re-counting the absentee ballots, Baker and Barnum re-entered their challenge on the public view issue, only this time Election Commissioner David Hoover (R) voted against the counting of the ballots citing that they had "been challenged twice."

From the courtroom, Reed then asked Phillips if the ballots should be made provisional, or segregated. "The Election Commission has voted two to one, and the ballots will be counted," he replied.

In a later interview, Baker said the election commission would have to make a determination on the discrepancies before turning the certified count into the clerk's office.

The final numbers showed a very high turnout for an off-year election, with 57 percent of registered voters taking part.

Following are the final results.

State Representative Dist. 91

Bryan King (R).................4,185

Merlin Leach (D)..............3,902

County Judge

Richard Williams (R).......4,139

Ulys K. Smith (D)............4,070

Sheriff

Bob Grudek (R)................4,810

Chuck Medford (D)..........3,397

Justice of the Peace Dist. 2

Albena Link (R)..................541

Duane Coatney (D).............530

Justice of the Peace Dist. 4

Ronald Flake (R).................361

Margaret Fancher (D).........264

Justice of the Peace Dist. 5

Todd Walker (D)..................273

Paul Mosblech (R)...............262

Justice of the Peace Dist. 7

Tom Riddle (D)...................411

Eva Reeve (R).....................287

Justice of the Peace Dist. 8

Keri Ann Newberry (R).......325

Stanley Norris (D)...............244

Justice of the Peace Dist. 9

Don McNeely (R)................218

Yvonne Herron (D)..............201

Justice of the Peace Dist. 10

Larry Swofford (D).............322

Buddy Fry (R).....................231

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