In other contested county races on the GOP ballot, Brandy Vick was elected County Treasurer, Karen Bunn won the District Clerk contest, and Rebecca (Becky) Skinner was elected Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace, while Kimberly Clift-Stone and Wyone Manes were thrown into a May 27 runoff for Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace.
Winning the GOP primary for county office here was tantamount to election since no other party has nominees for local posts on this November’s general election ballot, except that the Libertarians are expected to nominate former County Clerk Peggy LaGrone for County Clerk to face Republican Terri Ross.
By Jan. 1, when the winners are scheduled to take office, Upshur County will have no Democrats holding an elective county office for the first time in modern history since the only two now, County Treasurer Myra Harris and Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace W.V. Ray, did not seek reelection.
Sunday’s winter storm, which caused widespread and prolonged electricity outages in the county, left at least two polling places for the GOP and Democratic primaries—the Big Sandy High School gymnasium and Pritchett Community Center—without power for most of Tuesday’s 12 voting hours, said county GOP Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway. That was among several difficulties encountered in holding the respective primaries.
Of the county’s 26,014 registered voters, some 4,249 voted in the GOP primary, while another 288 cast ballots in the Democratic contest, according to the Upshur County Clerk’s Office.
Fowler won a fourth term by defeating attorney Ronnica Ridgeway, who is Mrs. Ridgeway’s daughter, by a more than 2-to-1 margIn. In complete, unofficial returns, he received 2,853 votes, or 71.02 percent, to Ms. Ridgeway’s 1,164, or 28.98 percent.
“I appreciate the overwhelming support of the voters and I look forward to the next four years,” Fowler said Thursday. “I appreciate the fact that I was able to overcome all the negativity that was thrown at my campaign, and thankful that I was able to run a positive and upbeat campaign based on the accomplishments that we’ve made over the past few years.”
Ms. Ridgeway told reporters at her law office in the Roberts Building on Tuesday night she “will remain involved in Republican party politics” while practicing law, and that she was not ruling out another run for public office.
“I wanted to thank everybody for coming out to vote and bearing the weather,” she said, and she congratulated “our newest elected officials.” She said she would call Fowler.
Ms. Ridgeway also said she thought the power outages “certainly affected voter turnout,” which she termed “very low.”
In the Pct. 4 Commissioner race, Spencer won a second term by defeating veteran county employee Karmen Kelley, 853 to 496, or 63.23 percent to 36.77 percent in unofficial returns.
But in a rematch of Hefner and Gross’s 2010 primary race, which Hefner won by only 12 votes, longtime former educator and current sheriff’s School Resource Officer Gross won this time by 48 votes in unofficial returns, 489 to 441.
Gross, who is also a member of the New Diana School Board, won 52.58 percent of the vote to defeat Hefner, a businessman, in the incumbent’s bid for a second term.
In the countywide races, Mrs. Vick easily defeated Todd Quinn by 2,184 to 1,589 in unofficial returns, while Mrs. Bunn also won handily over Kathryn Wilson, 2,350 to 1,501.
In the Pct. 4 JP race, longtime Gilmer Municipal Judge Skinner polled 705 votes to 610 for Sherry Jewkes-Larsen, the JP office’s longtime clerk, in unofficial returns.
In the Pct. 1 JP race, Manes, who once held the office, led the 3-candidate field in unofficial returns with 298 to Clift-Stone’s 284 and 247 for Cheryl L. Taylor, who was defeated.
Unopposed for reelection in the GOP primary were District Attorney Billy Byrd, Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Lyle Potter, Pct. 3 JP Rhonda Welch, County Republican Chairman Ridgeway, and 115th District Judge Lauren Parish, whose post is elected in Upshur and Marion Counties. Also unopposed in that primary was Mrs. Ross, candidate for County Clerk, who is expected to face Ms. LaGrone in the November election.
Several statewide races were also on Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican ballots, and Upshur Countian David Watts Jr., who was seeking the GOP nomination for state Land Commissioner, lost both statewide and in Upshur County to George P. Bush, a relative of both American Presidents sharing his first and last names. (See separate story for Upshur returns in state races.)
Dan Miles Jr. was reelected Upshur County Democratic Chairman without opposition.
As for the problems with holding the primaries in Upshur County, some, though not all, were weather-related.
Big Sandy’s polling place had no power until about 5:45 p.m. and Pritchett’s, which had service when the polls opened at 7 a.m., lost it early that morning, Chairman Ridgeway said Thursday. She said she secured a generator for the community center from the adjacent Pritchett Volunteer Fire Dept., thus giving lights but not enough power to activate voting and tabulating machines.
Voters cast paper ballots in both locations and at the Simpsonville Volunteer Fire Dept. as an election judge there said conditions were too crowded to accommodate voting machinery, Mrs. Ridgeway said.
In addition, the tabulation of votes at the County Courthouse was not completed until well after 1 a.m. Wednesday because the hand-cast ballots at Big Sandy, Pritchett, and Simpsonville had to be scanned in at the courthouse instead of on-site at the polling locations, she said.
Claudette Bunn, an election worker at Big Sandy, told The Mirror Tuesday night that “My feet were so cold, I took my gloves off my hands, and put them on my feet.” She still had them there while at the courthouse Tuesday night for the vote tabulation.
“They (voters) all felt sorry for us (election workers and judges). We were wrapped up in blankets” after the election equipment had been “set up basically in the dark” with car lights shining through glass in the gymnasium, she said.
Even after power came back on late that afternoon, the election judge decided to use only paper ballots, and “that was fine with everybody” who voted, Ms. Bunn said.
A representative of Hart Intercivic, the computer programming firm that contracted with the parties to hold the primary, had to tend to “a significant number of election equipment problems” at various polling places “due to the age of the equipment, and the lack of (ongoing) training on the part of the election judges and workers,” Mrs. Ridgeway said.
Furthermore, several election workers could not reach the polls due to weather conditions, she said. She reiterated her support for establishing a county Election Administrator to do “year-round” training of election judges and workers to “provide a supply of trained workers. . . that could be called on in an emergency.”
She expressed appreciation to election workers for “a superb job under the most adverse of circumstances,” and for the fact that Democratic and Republican workers helped each other. One had to cut a tree off her driveway to get to the polling place, yet arrived in time, the GOP chairman noted.
Mrs. Ridgeway also expressed gratitude to County Constables for being available for election security and to the Sheriff”s Office for making its dispatcher available to support the Constables. In addition, she thanked County Clerk Barbara Winchester’s Office for its backup support, especially Deputy Clerk Greg Dodson.