MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – After it was all said and done and 41 precincts were tallied, the Monongalia Co. Clerk reported that the total voter turnout was 56.51 percent.
There were two key races on the ballot for Monongalia Co. voters and the first was a race for a county commission seat. Democratic challenger Jeff Arnett took on Republican incumbent Ed Hawkins and won narrowly. Arnett won with 50.17 percent (19,739) of the vote to Hawkins’ 49.76 percent (19,577).
In the second closely watched race for the West Virginia House of Delegates 51st Delegate District, there were 10 candidates to choose from and only five could win. Democrats took four out of five seats and incumbent Barbara Evans Fleischauer led the way with 11.83 (19,534) percent of the vote, followed by Democrat Evan Hansen who received 11.29 percent (18,636) of the vote.
In third was Republican Joe Statler who finished the evening with 11.01 percent (18,175) of the vote, but started off the night out of the top five when early voting and absentee ballots were tabulated.
“I was 1,700 down in the early voting and absentee voting that was done,” Statler said. “I was really dejected, I thought I wasn’t going to make a comeback and my team kept saying ‘you’re going to come back’. To come back that great and go all the way down from six to jump up into the third position — I just can’t express how great of a feeling it is.”
Statler said he is thankful for all of those who voted for him and that he will keep his campaign promise to keep working to move both Monongalia Co. and West Virginia forward.
As for all those who didn’t vote for him, Statler had one message.
“I don’t know who did or didn’t vote for me and I won’t look at that.,” Statler said. “I never look at that type of thing because I won the election to represent the people on Monongalia Co. I didn’t win the election to just represent the people that support me and voted for me. That’s not going to be an issue for me. I’m going to represent them just the same.”
In the House of Delegates race, in sixth place was Republican Cindy Frich who was narrowly defeated for fifth place by Democrat John Williams, with each receiving 17,555 and 17,580 respectively. This tight margin and that in the commission race could change according to County Clerk Carye Blaney.
Blaney said there are approximately 325 provisional ballots that were cast on election day.
“Provisional ballots are accepted at precincts for voters who do not qualify to vote the standard ballot, which was counted with the unofficial results tonight,” Blaney said. “That could be for various reasons: they were not registered, or they voted in an incorrect precinct. Those are all reviewed by the Canvassing Board, which is our county commission and the canvassing board will review those ballots and make a decision on whether they will be counted or not counted for this election.”
Blaney said out of the roughly 10,600 absentee ballots requested all but about a thousand were returned. Absentee ballots postmarked by election day will be considered and like the provisional ballots, they will go to the county’s Canvassing Board on Monday, Nov. 9.
The county clerk said while she does not expect to see all remaining absentee ballots return she is optimistic that many will because Monongalia Co. saw a high return rate during the primary election.
As election season wraps up, no matter who wins or loses, Blaney said there is something to be proud of. She described the year as “extraordinary” because she and her team had to run two elections in the midst of a pandemic. The sheer amount of absentee ballots alone rose drastically from 1,200-1,500 to roughly 14,000 in the primaries and 10,600 in the generals.
“I can’t say enough about our staff in the county clerk’s office,” Blaney said. “They have done an extremely great job of making sure that everyone one of those absentee ballots when they were received they were sent out timely. We’ve had a 90 something percent rate of return on our absentee ballots for this election. I would say that that’s probably one of the highest rates of return anywhere, even across the country, on a rate of mail-in ballot returns. I think that’s large in part with how we handled that election and how we did handle it, so I cannot say enough about our staff.
Blaney also said she cannot say enough about election officials who worked at the precincts on Election Day. She said there were more than 200 people who volunteered to be trained and work as poll workers. Their training made all the difference in making sure people could vote and do so safely even during a pandemic, Blaney said.
“We’ve had two elections now during this pandemic and we have been very fortunate with our safety protocols that we’ve had in place,” Blaney said. “We’ve not had one issue with anyone getting sick from attending and voting at one of our locations.”