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Ballot page split upsets Ohio County candidate

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo Sarah Koegler
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo
Sarah Koegler

WHEELING, W.Va. — The phones at the Ohio County Commission office rang consistently throughout the day Wednesday with voters asking why they couldn’t vote for board of education candidate Sarah Koegler.

On the first day of early voting in the county, many voters expressed concern that Koegler’s name wasn’t listed along with the five other candidates seeking two seats on the board up for election on May 10. Space requirements at the bottom of the ballot’s computer page bumped Koegler’s name – the sixth and last listed – onto the next screen. Under her name are two entries for write-in candidate submissions.

A button reading “more” tells voters there are additional candidates on the next screen. But the separation of Koegler’s name from the others nevertheless is causing voters confusion.

The ballot position of candidates in each race was determined by a lottery held in the Ohio County Commission office earlier this year. Candidates appear on the ballot in this order: Jenny Jebbia, Marlene Midget, Roger “Senor” Smith, Gary Kestner, Zach Abraham and Koegler.

Koegler learned of the split candidate issue Wednesday after receiving about 25 calls throughout the day. She and her husband, Jason Koegler, have contacted attorneys, and were planning to speak with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant sometime late Wednesday afternoon about the issue.

“It’s really confusing, and there’s really no explanation. … ,” Koegler said. “I think voters already are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the voting machines. Now they won’t have the opportunity to vote for the candidate they want to vote for, and that worries me. I’m especially worried for the older people. It’s a unique situation. Why could they not have put all the candidates on one page, or separate them three on one page and three on the other?”

West Virginia law does mandate in those cases when candidate names in the same race must be broken up on the ballot, the separation be done “equally,” according to information provided by Tennant’s office.

“If the number of candidates for an office exceeds the space available on a column or ballot page and requires that candidates for a single office be separated, to the extent possible, the number of candidates for the office on separate columns or pages are to be nearly equal and clear instructions given the voter that the candidates for the office are continued on the following column or page,” the code reads.

Briana Wilson, spokeswoman for Tennant’s office, said the office would investigate the matter if an official complaint is filed.

“If the candidate has reached out, our office would look into that,” she said. “For, now we cannot confirm or deny whether any complaint has yet to be filed. But if one is, we would look into seeing if state code or law was broken.”

Toni Chieffalo, coordinator for elections in Ohio County, referred all questions about the matter to county Administrator Greg Stewart. Stewart was engaged in private discussion with County Solicitor Donald Tennant in his office late Wednesday afternoon, and neither could be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Chieffalo, though, did explain that the new voting machines being used in Ohio County this election cycle do not allow voters to skip a race – or an extra candidate page – without viewing it.

A large amount of writing at the top of the screen preceding the board of education candidates limited the space on that computer page, allowing room for just the five candidates at the bottom.

“There’s really nothing we could do,” Chieffalo said. “We’re waiting for an answer from the company that programs the machines.”

That company is Elections Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb.

Many people also sent to Koegler photos of the ballot screen they captured inside their voting stations while voting on Wednesday, and some shared photos via social media. This, however, is against the law, according to Wilson and Chieffalo.

The use of electronic or recording devices inside the polling location is prohibited by state law, and signs are posted at the City-County Building informing voters of this rule.

“You are not even supposed to use your cellphone, but it’s hard to police,” Chieffalo said.

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