When the city’s chief elections officer is up for election, how can voters trust the process?
That is the question being batted around on the Majority Voice Party’s (MVP) Facebook page. Shannon Beatty, the Lewisburg Citizens’ Party candidate seeking re-election to the seat of city recorder, has an answer for those questioning her honesty: “I always do whatever the West Virginia Election Code Book and the Secretary of State’s office tells me to do.”
And if she is defeated by challenger Al Petrie, will she certify the election results?
Beatty says the controversy over her ability to honestly perform her duty as city recorder has caught her off guard. She’s been city recorder since 2004, after becoming the treasurer/assistant city recorder in 2002. She ran for election the first time in 2005 against Martha Fleshman, and when she won the election, no one wondered whether she had cheated. Until now, “It’s just never been an issue.”
She’s also not alone in her duties: in West Virginia, county clerks and the secretary of state are elected to office, and, even in years they are running for office, they certify the elections. It’s part of the job, and officials take an oath of office and receive training and certification to ensure honesty in the process, Beatty said.
However, if phone calls to her office and posts on social media are to be believed, this city election is different than those before it – it’s more contentious, it’s more emotional, and most of the battle for the open city council seats are being fought from behind computer and smartphone screens by candidates, their spokespeople, and citizens on both sides of the aisle who are passionately defending their party and attacking the opposing one.
On Apr. 27, an MVP Facebook page administrator posted the following comment, which is marked as having been edited:
“We were informed today by incumbent city recorder Shannon Beatty that she only used three of the fourteen names we provided for election officials. We have yet to confirm those three, as everyone we’ve spoke with thus far shared they were not selected for appointment.
We have been informed by other municipalities that their procedure for appointing election officials is to use the county officials who regularly work the polls.
Mrs. Beatty did not follow procedure of other municipalities – who shared they do so to guarantee a fair election – nor did she use the names provided to her at her request when she shared with our representatives that she has difficulty finding enough individuals to volunteer as poll officials.
We are understandably concerned that Mrs. Beatty has handpicked poll workers for an election she is running in, intentionally excluding individuals MVP suggested.
At least one of the volunteers was called prior to appointments and told by Mrs. Beatty that she could not use her because of her party affiliation – that she had already filled appointments for that particular party. However, does it make sense to make those appointments from another list, rather than pull half the appointees from the MVP’s list and half from the Citizens’ Party list? The WV Secretary of State’s Office is vague in the area of appointments, but it is very clear that consideration should be made during appointment to guarantee equal representation for parties at the polls and during the counting process. It is also clear that this did not happen.”
MVP party representative Houston Adkins told the Mountain Messenger that on Mar. 27, he and party president Mike Teubert (who is the spouse of city council MVP candidate Dorcus Teubert) went to Beatty’s office to ask her to consider using poll workers from an MVP-provided list, and that they were told that she hadn’t yet made up a list of workers and would have it by the end of the week. Beatty asked them to provide 10 names, Adkins said. Two days later, Adkins said, the MVP brought her a list of names.
In an interview with the Mountain Messenger, Beatty said that she had begun working on her poll worker list in February and March. She said state code requires her to have 24 poll workers, with an equal number of registered Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
Beatty has been overseeing elections since the early aughts, she said, and has a ready list of people from all three major political parties who are willing and able to work the polls.
“I like to have my list complete by the time we do the ballot drawing,” she said, referring to the day each candidate draws their name to determine where on the ballot their name falls. MVP members brought her a list of their hand-picked poll workers the day of the ballot drawing, Mar. 28.
Beatty said that MVP members told her they wanted to make sure there were an equal number of Majority Voice Party members and Citizens’ Party members working the polls. But, Beatty told them that there is no such way for her to differentiate them – she only knows whether workers are Democrat, Republican or Independent.
Beatty said she has tried to include MVP supporters as poll workers by listing them as alternates on her poll worker list.
“I looked at openings (on the list) and I added two workers, and then added MVP workers to the alternate list,” she said, noting that as regular poll workers from her original list drop out, she’s only added workers from the MVP-provided list. Moreover, having trained everyone in proper polling procedure, Beatty said she’s confident supporters of both the Citizens’ Party and the MVP are going to work honestly on election day.
Adkins said he’s pleased with the amount of MVP-approved pollsters Beatty has added to the list.
“I am very, very encouraged that Shannon Beatty included additional names to the poll worker list from the MVP,” said Adkins.
Online, MVP supporters and an unnamed MVP Facebook administrator remain unconvinced. On June 2, a commenter posted this on the MVP Facebook page:
“Jason Crowder with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office came by Lewisburg City Hall today (6,2,17) to inspect the Early Voter Polls. He affirmed that election procedures and the process for selecting and training poll workers is proper and correct.”
This was the MVP’s response:
“We were informed by the WVSOS’s office about a week ago that Mr. Crowder will be around sporadically throughout voting as concerns raised by citizens concerning election polling and counting were legitimate and something the WVSOS’s office felt should be monitored closely.”
That same day, Donald Kersey, elections director/deputy legal counsel for the Secretary of State, said the following in an email, which began, “Shannon is right.”
“Because folks in municipalities are not ‘registered’ under their local municipal party affiliations, such local affiliations are not to be considered when determining ‘opposite political parties’ when appointing poll clerks. And, as Shannon has done, the poll workers must be recommended, appointed, and selected based on their REGISTERED (Kersey’s caps) political parties as they appear in the statewide registration system,” Kersey stated in the email.
Beatty said that she called the Secretary of State’s office and invited them to inspect the election.
“I’ve been repeatedly told that I’m doing everything properly and correctly, and that I’m following state code,” she said.
Beatty continued that since she’s fallen under suspicion by the opposing party, she’s taken extra steps to remove herself from the early voting process.
“I’m not taking any of the votes themselves,” she said. “Usually I’m in the city council chambers taking votes but I’m staying in my office. Each night the registration books are sealed and locked.” When Beatty does handle the registration books, she said she’s accompanied by a poll worker from each major political party.
“The county clerk suggested we do that to reassure voters of fairness,” Beatty explained.
Beatty said she is confident in the security of the election.
“Each early voting ballot box has two locks,” she said. “The mayor and I have the keys, but they are actually locked away from us.”
Beatty concedes there is an upside to such a contentious election: high voter turnout.
As of June 6, she said 222 voters have cast their votes in the municipal election, a number that, in other years, is about equal to the total number of votes cast in Lewisburg. The total number of registered voters in city limits totals 3,559, as of Mar. 28, she said.
Early voting ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.
Election Day is Tuesday, June 13. Polls open in city hall at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.