Upshur County Dist. Atty. Billy Byrd said Friday that despite allegations of "irregularities" in the local May 29 Republican primary election, he has found no tampering and is confident the vote count was accurate.
Controversy had continued to surround the Upshur County GOP since the election, as a court petition was filed alleging voting irregularities in the primary, a deputy county clerk was fired, and officials at the state Republican convention seated a delegation from the county led by Cynthia Ridgeway, thus rejecting one headed by county Republican Chairman Ken Ambrose.
Although no candidate is yet attempting to overturn the election outcome, allegations have been raised that several persons were denied the right to vote in their correct precinct because their voter registration cards were miscoded. The petition, filed by Ambrose, additionally said a broken computer seal left one of the early voting boxes unsecured.
Ambrose said Wednesday night he filed the petition Monday in 115th District Court at the request of Tim Barnett, who lost the GOP primary for Pct. 1 constable to Gene Dolle. Barnett told The Mirror Wednesday evening he had received calls from people who told him they tried to vote for him, but couldn't because their voter cards wrongly showed they lived in precinct 3 instead of precinct 1.
Neither Ambrose nor Barnett has alleged any intentional wrongdoing in the election.
Ambrose filed his petition against Mrs. Ridgeway and Chuck Mears, who defeated him in the May 29 primary and landed in the July 31 runoff for the chairman post. Citing the alleged irregularities in the primary, the petition said "Plaintiff Ambrose challenges the outcome of said election."
But Ambrose then said Wednesday night that "I'm not trying to overturn the election. . .I did not challenge the election." When asked about the statement in his petition that he was challenging it, Ambrose told The Mirror, "That's what attorneys do. They talk in legalese."
Ambrose had signed the petition and the attorney who filed it on his behalf, Gladewater lawyer Steven Dowd, announced Friday morning he was withdrawing from representing the chairman.
Attached to the petition were affidavits from several people saying their voter cards showed they lived in a precinct other than where they reside. Those persons said they weren't allowed to vote in the right precinct, and that they voted in the wrong one, preventing them from voting for precinct candidates in the area where they lived.
In his petition, Ambrose did not ask for specific action concerning the election, but instead asked for a temporary restraining order to Mrs. Ridgeway and Mears not to interfere with Ambrose and his delegation from serving at the state convention. After 115th District Judge Lauren Parish recused herself from the case, a district judge in Smith County, Christi Kennedy, denied the request, said Dowd.
Mrs. Ridgeway and Ambrose held competing GOP county conventions April 21, and the gatherings elected separate delegations to the state convention being held this week in Ft. Worth. Mrs. Ridgeway said Wednesday that the Credentials Committee recommended her delegation be seated that day, and that the State Republican Executive Committee approved the recommendation.
Molly Cummings, a member of the Upshur GOP, represented Ambrose at the Credentials Committee hearing, Mrs. Ridgeway said.
Ambrose said he had talked to an attorney who attended the hearing and who told him that "procedurally," the committee's decision "seemed to be correct, but morally, he said, it was reprehensible."
In another development, County Clerk Brandy Lee told The Mirror Friday she had fired a deputy clerk for failing to tell her about the problem with the seal on the voting box.
Mrs. Lee said that two days after the primary, she received calls from a candidate and a poll watcher who "told me the seal was off the machine in the bottom of the bag when they opened it. So I asked the employee (the deputy clerk) if this was true and found out it was, and it had not been previously reported to me at all. So I had to let that person go" on Friday, June 1, because "it wasn't reported to me," Mrs. Lee said.
"If I hadn't of (fired the deputy), it would have looked like we all were trying to cover something up," Mrs. Lee said. "It was a good employee that made a bad decision, basically."
On election night, the worker had documented the broken seal in writing, Mrs. Lee said. And "had I been notified up front" (verbally), the clerk's office would have bypassed a card which fits into the machine and which records vote totals, and instead "would have gotten the results directly off that machine," the County Clerk said.
Mrs. Lee said the deputy clerk had not orally notified her of the problem because the seal looked like it was "damaged from moving around" and "it didn't look like intentional human tampering."
The County Clerk said she notified Dist. Atty. Billy Byrd, who contacted Hart InterCivic, the vendor for the county's election equipment. Hart sent an employee form Austin to compare the election results on the card to results on the machine itself and they matched, so Byrd found there was no wrongdoing, Mrs. Lee said.
Barnett had told The Mirror Wednesday night that on the day after the primary, about 20 persons who live near him in the Gladewater area called him, saying they attempted to vote for him, but couldn't because of errors on their voting cards.
He said he wanted to shed light on the irregularities and correct them.
Barnett said it was "not my goal" to overturn his loss to Dolle, but "if the judge says let's have a new one (election), let's do that."
Voter registration cards are sent out by the office of Upshur County Tax Assessor-Collector Sherron Laminack, who was reportedly in a seminar here Friday morning and not immediately available for comment.