17 August 2007

Liveblogging From The Kanawha County Vote Canvass

I'm heading to the Kanawha County clerk's voter registration office, as The Associated Press covers the day-long, precinct-by-precinct audit of the results from Saturday's gambling referendum.

This canvass is to include the more than 400 ballots left uncounted from the special election, which saw table games pass by a wafer-thin, unofficial 33 vote margin.

The canvass has been described as "tedious" and an "ordeal." I can't wait to get there...

Update: Besides AP's coverage, WSAZ-TV is offering a live video feed of the canvass.

The commissioners began by setting a baseline tally _ 22,480 "Yes" and 22,420 "No" _ by subtracting early votes that were discovered and counted at the clerk's office Saturday.

That gave Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center a baseline 60-vote margin of victory.

They then checked the ballot boxes and canvass bags from each of the 10 precincts that had failed to count early and absentee votes.

9:30 a.m.: 4 precincts reviewed; 21 "yes" and 52 "no" votes to reduce Tri-State's winning margin to 29 votes.

These 4 precincts challenged 39 ballots: 14 of these provisional ballots will be counted in the canvas, 21 were tossed because the voters weren't registered or showed up at the wrong place.

10 a.m.: One of the two South Hills precincts with uncounted ballots yielded 86 "Yes" and 36 "No" votes, raising the margin to 79 votes.

10:10 a.m.: 8
of 10 precincts reviewed, including both South Hills polling places that together account for more than 300 uncounted ballots, adding 276 "Yes" and 192 "No" votes.

Tri-State's margin: 144 votes.

Of 45 provisional ballots reviewed, 20 validated (but not yet counted) and 25 tossed.

10:30 a.m.: All 10 precincts reviewed.

Added "Yes" votes: 309
Added "No" votes: 225

Table games is passing by 144 votes.

(The Sissonville precinct discovered Monday to have missed ballots actually endorsed table games among its early voters, 33 to 31)

Of 58 provisional ballots reviewed, 28 will be counted and 30 have been tossed. The commissioners will now review the remaining provisional ballots precinct-by-precinct.

12:15 p.m.: The AP updates its online story, to reflect 28 provisional ballots added to the total.

Table games is passing by 146 vote.

The commission has so far reviewed 45 precincts, and 173 provisional ballots. Just under half have been tossed.

1:15 p.m.: The commision has reviewed 58 precincts, one-third of the total, including the entire 1st Magisterial District.

Out of 252 challenged ballots from these precincts, 136 will be counted.

A large error in Precinct 177 (Charleston) has also prompted a recount of its votes.

1:30 p.m.: Voting out of Ruffner Elementary, the 177th precinct appears to have undercounted perhaps 100 of its ballots, Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick said. The total reported Saturday is 81 "yes" votes to 56 "no" votes.

The Guessinator 5000 (tm), meanwhile, indicates that the provisional ballots validated so far would increase Tri-State's margin to 151 votes.

(The Guessinator 5000 (tm) was off by 19 votes when it estimated the outcome of the 534 overlooked ballots.)

2:15 p.m.: The canvassed tally for the 1st Magisterial District (one of four districts, with 50 of the 175 precincts) is 5,013 "yes" and 4,961 "no" votes.

Tri-State's margin in that district: 52 votes.

The canvassed tally includes the validated provisional ballots for that district. All told, the commission has reviewed 79 precincts and allowed 186 of 342 challenged ballots to be counted.

2:45 p.m.: Commissioner ordered a recount for a second precinct. No. 254, voting out of Holz Elementary in Charleston, appeared off on its tally by scores of votes. It had been reported Saturday as 150 "yes" votes and 143 "no votes.

The commission has reviewed 91 of 175 precinct, or just over half the total. Out of 380 provisional ballots reviewed, 203 will be counted.

3:34 p.m.: The recount of No. 254 shows that election workers wrote down the wrong "yes" total _ 150 votes instead of 255 votes. That increases Tri-State's margin to 251 votes.

4 p.m.
The canvassed tally for the 2nd Magisterial District (second of four districts, with 47 of the 175 precincts): 7,219 yes to 5,720 no.

Tri-State's margin in that district: 1,499 votes.

5:15 p.m.:
The commission has finished reviewing the 40 precincts of the 3rd Magisterial District. All told, it will count about half of the 639 provisional ballots examined so far.

6 p.m.: The canvassed totals, with 36 precincts yet to check: 23,137 yes to 22,813 no.

Tri-State's margin: 324 votes.

There are still a number of provisional ballots to count, and also a number still to review. The recount from the other Charleston precinct are also pending.

The Guessinator 5000 (tm) is starting to fry some circuits, but it appears that 714 provisional ballots have been examined, and 355 validated.

6:30 p.m.: The commission has finished its review of provisional ballots from the remaining precincts. While black, churning smoke is rising visibly out of the
Guessinator 5000 (tm), it appears that the commission examined nearly 800 challenged ballots and validated more than 400 of them.

The final tally and correct provisional ballots #s are forthcoming.

6:45 p.m.: Final, certified results:

Yes: 23,192
No: 22,849

Tri-State prevails by: 343 votes.

The results will be published at a commission meeting Tuesday. Opponents then have 48 hours to request a recount.

AP reports on the certified outcome, and talks to opponents about their possible next step.

Feds Want Share of W.Va. Settlement

The federal government says West Virginia owes it more than $4.1 million from the settlement of a 2004 settlement with the maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin, The Associated Press reports.

Because the federal government helps fund the state Medicaid program, it argues it deserves a share as the lawsuit aimed to recoup money improperly spent covering OxyContin prescriptions.

The lawsuit alleged Purdue Pharma failed to disclose the drug's addictive nature while promoting the drug to doctors and the public. State Attorney General Darrell McGraw settled the case for $10 million. Among other beneficiaries, proceeds since have gone to alternative sentencing programs for nonviolent offenders.

Lawsuit Settled From '04 W.Va. Bush Event Arrests

The White House has settled the lawsuit spawned by the arrest of protesters during a 2004 President Bush visit to West Virginia.

The Associated Press has the details from the case of Jeffrey and Nicole Rank. For refusing to cover up anti-Bush T-shirts, the two "were handcuffed, removed from the July 4, 2004, rally at the state Capitol and held in police custody for between one and two hours."

Earlier this year, the lawsuit yielded a heavily censored copy of a White House manual on managing Bush events. The released portions includes detailed instructions on watching for and dealing with agitators.

Others with the story include The Charleston Gazette and WSAZ-TV, which also offers video of interviews with the Ranks.

Today's Batch O' Facts: Army Suicides

In the wake of a recent report about rising suicides among Army personnel, it may be time to revisit the U.S. Department of Defense casualty figures listed here earlier.

This includes all branches of the military. In terms of raw numbers, 1988 was the worst year for self-inflicted deaths. But given the changing size of the U.S. military, proportionally suicides were at their most severe in 1995.

16 August 2007

Romney Returns to West Virginia

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney pressed the flesh Thursday at the State Fair of West Virginia, and The Associated Press walked alongside.

The former Massachusetts governor talked about family values, immigration, his family's blind trust, and coal. Romney said he would commit federal funds toward improving and developing technology to convert the Mountain State's natural resource into liquid fuel.

"Gov. Joe Manchin - himself a coal-to-liquid enthusiast - also toured the fair Thursday with his wife and fellow Democratic officials," AP reports. "Though their respective entourages passed within several dozen yards of each other, Manchin and Romney did not meet."

Update: MetroNews' Talkline interviewed Romney before his visit to the fair, and offers audio.

West Virginia's Other "King"

(Photo courtesy of Charleston Daily Mail.)

Is the photo from one of Elvis' storied 1975 concerts in Charleston? Those who don't attend state Republican Party social events (and even some who do) may not realize it's actually longtime GOP operative Gary Abernathy. The Charleston Daily Mail marks the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death by highlighting Abernathy's side gig as a jumpsuit-era impersonator. He's even got his own cover band, the Jailhouse Rockers.

Kanawha Awaits Canvass of Gambling Referendum

Secretary of State Betty Ireland is asking West Virginia's 55 county clerks what they think of the law that requires voting precincts to count paper ballots, her chief of staff tells The Associated Press.

The state's chief elections officer is surveying her county-level counterparts in the wake of 438 missed paper ballots from Saturday's table games referendum in Kanawha County.

Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick and her office have caught flak, given the hotly debated topic of gambling and the unofficial, 33-vote margin in favor of passage.

"I know people are upset," McCormick tells AP. "I don't want them to feel they can't trust the electoral process."

The Charleston Gazette highlights said flak, and hears from those stepping up to defend her. The newspaper also reports that the mandatory canvas of the Aug. 11 vote will likely begin Friday as an "all-day ordeal."

The Charleston Daily Mail has a story previewing the canvass as well. Both papers note that it will also feature delegations from both Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, which seeks the table games, and an anti-gambling coalition of churches and social conservatives.

Tri-State and West Virginia's three other tracks argue table games will help them blunt competition from neighboring states. Pennsylvania began opening slot machine casinos last year.

Maryland may not be far behind, according to AP: a report commissioned by its governor concludes the state could reduce its budget deficit with the millions in potential tax revenue it is losing to the video lottery machines at West Virginia's tracks.

Update: the Daily Mail also talks to workers from some of the precincts that failed to count votes.

15 August 2007

The Guessinator 5000

The table games referendum in Kanawha County will prevail by 95 votes once all of the uncounted ballots are counted _ if the early voting trends in those precincts mirror that of the regular voting Saturday.

(click to enlarge)

The above chart lists the precincts that failed to count their early votes, and the percentage breakdown of the votes cast (and counted) Saturday in each. It then applies those percentages to their uncounted ballots.

We'll get the actual numbers, of course, once the vote canvass begins Friday. The above estimate also does not include the more than 500 provisional ballots that must be reviewed during the audit. Opinions appear mixed as to whether very many of these challenged votes will be counted.

Update: MetroNews also touches on this topic (with audio).

Quote of the Day

"The sheriff has a drug dog. Maybe the clerk should get a ballot beagle."

-- Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, to The Associated Press regarding the latest discovery of ballots left uncounted from Saturday's table games special election.

Making Sense of Missed Ballots (Corrected)

All told, poll workers at 10 of Kanawha County's 175 precincts neglected to count a total of 526 ballots after voting ended Saturday in the table games special election, Clerk Vera McCormick told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

These were among the 10,275 ballots cast during early voting, and then sent out Saturday to the precincts of their respective voters. State law requires paper ballots _ including early votes _ to be counted at the precincts, as opposed to the county clerk's office.

McCormick's staff found 88 of these ballots from two precincts late Saturday and counted them. (They also counted 67 ballots from a third precinct; McCormick said Tuesday those had actually been counted already, and the double-count must now be deducted from the total.)

Another 64 ballots from a Sissonville precinct were discovered when McCormick's office re-opened Monday. A search of all the bags from the various precincts Tuesday yielded an additional 374 ballots from seven precincts.

(Update: Thanks to the Charleston Daily Mail for information on the two additional precincts with overlooked ballots found Tuesday.)

McCormick tells AP that ballots can often be overlooked this way, which is why counties conduct mandatory audits before results are made official. She said there were similar incidents during the county's last special issue election, the failed 2005 pension bond proposal.

Two factors have made the current situation more glaring, in McCormick's view: the high interest in the battle over allowing casino table games in West Virginia; and the unofficial, 33-vote margin by which Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center has prevailed (so far) on the question.

McCormick expects all of the as-yet-uncounted early ballots to be added to the total once the audit of results begins Friday. During this canvass, the county commission must also decide what to do with more than 500 ballots that were challenged by poll workers when they were cast Saturday.

Others reporting on the latest developments include MetroNews, The Charleston Gazette, and the Charleston Daily Mail (which also hears from local residents in a related article.)

Update: Check out the Guessinator 5000 (tm).

Romney Returns To W.Va. Thursday

The State Fair of West Virginia will add yet another attraction Thursday: Mitt Romney.

Fresh off his weekend win in the Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll, Romney plans to visit the Fairlea fairgrounds around noon, The Associated Press reports.

Manchin, Clinton & Coal

As The Associated Press reports, "Gov. Joe Manchin has found a willing listener as he touts West Virginia's potential role in the country's energy future: former President Bill Clinton."

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton has not been part of the governor's ongoing discussions with her husband about coal and clean coal technology, Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said.

14 August 2007

A Look at the Table Games Vote

West Virginia waits for its largest county to canvass the votes from the weekend's gambling referendum, amid word that 64 overlooked ballots join more than 500 provisional (challenged) ballots as likely to change the 33-vote margin outcome.

Starting Friday, Kanawha County will audit the results from all 175 of its precincts to determine whether Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center will keep its ever-so-slight lead in favor of allowing casino table games.

The Associated Press reported on Monday's ballot discovery. Others offering the latest news include Public Broadcasting, MetroNews (with related stories here and here), The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.

An earlier post broke down the voting by each of Kanawha County's voting districts. Here are some additional tidbits:

Best Turnout: Cross Lanes, which hosts the traffic to and from Tri-State. Turnout exceeded 45 percent, compared to less than 36 percent countywide. (Out of 3,868 ballots cast there, there were 284 more "no" votes than "yes" votes.)

Worst Turnout: Montgomery, on the other end of the county. Just 91 voters showed up, for a 20 percent turnout.

Top Support: West Dunbar, with 70 percent of 280 voters supporting table games (but also second-worst turnout, at 20.3 percent).

Top Opposition: Tad, which cast 192 of 263 votes against table games (turnout there just exceeded the average, with 37 percent).

Other numbers:

* "Yes" votes outnumbered noes in just 12 of the 34 communities in the county.

* In the 8 communities that contributed 1,000 or more votes, table games prevailed in Charleston, Dunbar (by 3 votes) South Charleston and Nitro (which annexed the track several years ago), but failed in Cross Lanes, Elkview, Sissonville and St. Albans.

* As the county's dominant city, Charleston provided a 2,296-vote edge for table games (out of 16,902 votes cast there).

* The Sissonville precinct that failed to count the 64 ballots rejected table games 35 percent to 65 percent. Breaking down the overlooked votes by those percentages would leave Tri-State with a 15-vote margin of victory.

Also, The Journal of Martinsburg examines whether the Legislature might sweeten the table games deal for Jefferson County, which rejected the initiative in a June special election.

Manchin, Lawmakers Expect Special Session

Gov. Joe Manchin appears ready to ask the Legislature to consider several supplemental spending measures and other bills, either during or after the monthly interim meetings scheduled to run Sunday through Tuesday.

The Register-Herald of Beckley is the latest to speculate on the governor's special session agenda. Others with recent stories include the Parkersburg News and the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington.

The top, recurring agenda topic remains the warrantless wiring of an informant sent into a suspect's home. The Associated Press explored the issue in July.

13 August 2007

Table Games - Kanawha County: Breaking Update

Breaking Update:
Kanawha County officials report finding 64 ballots left uncounted after Saturday's special election.

Just 33 votes give Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center its margin of victory, on the question of whether to allow the Nitro track to become a full-blown casino.

Clerk Vera McCormick tells The Associated Press that these overlooked ballots will be counted once the canvass of all 175 voting precincts begins Friday.

That audit will also decide the fate of more than 500 as-yet-uncounted ballots that were challenged by precinct workers during Saturday's voting.

The 64 overlooked ballots should have been counted by a Sissonville precinct, and were among the 10,275 that were cast at McCormick's office during early voting.

But the precinct instead shipped them back to McCormick, uncounted, after the polls closed Saturday. They were not discovered until the office reopened Monday.

Three other precincts had similarly erred by not counting their share of early votes. But McCormick's staff found those 155 ballots late Saturday and counted them.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper noted to AP that the Saturday votes from this Sissonville precinct were heavily against table games.

MetroNews may have been the first with today's development. The Charleston Gazette also has a story.

AP heard earlier from both sides in advance of the audit. The Gazette also had a report that pegged the number of uncounted ballots at 586.

Hillary Clinton

The Associated Press interviewed "leading Democrats" in West Virginia and other states to assess the potential downside to Hillary Clinton winning the presidential nomination.

From the AP story:

"I'm one of these Democrats who has some legitimate reservations, because the Clintons have in the past invigorated the Republican base," said Carrie Webster, a leader in the West Virginia House of Delegates who served as executive director of the state party when Bill Clinton won the 1992 West Virginia primary.

"But the fact that so many prominent Democratic males are getting behind her at this early point makes me a little more confident that she could overcome some of the more obvious hurdles," she said.

12 August 2007

Sorting Out the Table Games Election

(Click on image to enlarge)

As the unofficial totals from the Kanawha County Clerk show, voters in precincts in and around Tri-State Greyhound & Gaming Center provided the largest margin of votes Saturday against allowing table games there.

This magisterial district saw the highest turnout as well. But those voters also accounted for more than one-fourth of the ballots that helped table games provisionally prevail with a wafer-thin 33-vote margin.

Here's a rundown of the county clerk's roster of polling places:

District 1: Belle, Campbells Creek, Chelyan, Marmet, Montgomery, Pratt, Rand and other eastern communities as well as the eastern edge of Charleston.

District 2: Large sections of Charleston and parts of South Charleston, St. Albans and Dunbar.

District 3: St. Albans, Cross Lanes and Nitro.

District 4: Charleston's West Side as well as Elkview, Quick and Clendenin.

The county commission will begin assessing the nearly 500 challenged ballots on Friday, leaving the final tally as yet too close to call.

Besides The Associated Press, those with coverage include The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews, Public Broadcasting, WSAZ-TV and WOWK-TV.

AP also plans for follow-up coverage later today.

Robert James Gould, 1958-2007

Charleston lawyer Robert James "Bob" Gould had just scored another plum in a lengthy career as a GOP politico: chair of the West Virginia campaign for Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani. Gould helped arrange the Aug. 3 fundraiser featuring the former New York mayor at The Greenbrier.

But that coup was soon followed by a bombshell: a cancer diagnosis. Friends reported to The Associated Press his death Saturday from the disease.

Gould graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson and earned his law degree at Syracuse. His career ranged from posts in Reagan's Department of Housing and Urban Development, to a 1992 run for West Virginia attorney general, to counsel for Republicans in the state Senate.

But before signing on with Giuliani, Gould had worked on or helped manage all manner of GOP campaigns: Pat Robertson for president in 1988, Jon McBride for governor in 1996, even a 2006 gubernatorial race in Colorado.

"Gould is survived by his wife Denise, two daughters and a son," AP reports. "A visitation and funeral service are scheduled for Thursday in Charleston."

33 Votes

That's the unofficial margin of victory for Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center after 45,055 Kanawha County residents cast ballots on the table games question.

But as The Associated Press reports, the results aren't final until a canvas of the 175 precincts that is slated to begin Friday. That audit will resolve nearly 500 challenged ballots.

And either side can request a recount within 48 hours of the canvas' completion.