KEYSER - An anonymous call to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office questioning the proper handling of Keyser’s upcoming city election prompted a visit to Wednesday’s Keyser City Council meeting by a representative of the secretary’s office.


By Liz Beavers
lbeavers@newstribune.info
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - An anonymous call to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office questioning the proper handling of Keyser’s upcoming city election prompted a visit to Wednesday’s Keyser City Council meeting by a representative of the secretary’s office.
Darrell Shull, field service representative for Secretary of State Mac Warner, told the crowd - which included some candidates for office - that Secretary Warner has worked hard since taking office to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat” in any election in the state.
“We’re very serious about election integrity,” he said.
Shull said he had met with city clerk Brandi Paugh, who is the chief elections clerk for Keyser, and went over her training and proper procedures for early and absentee voting and the actual election, slated for June 12.
“Brandi is an extremely well-qualified clerk to run an election,” he said. “Everything is all very much in line with best practices.”
Former city clerk Penny Ashenfelter, who still works with the city at times, was then asked to pose some questions to Shull which had been raised by various residents - some on Eye on Keyser.
The first question dealt with the legality of a brother and sister running for office, specifically, Brenda Gank Kitzmiller, who is running for mayor, and her brother Sonny Gank, a retired city employee who is running for a seat on the council.
Citing “recent ethics advisory opinions,” Shull told the crowd “there is nothing in the code that says that is a conflict.”
Kitzmiller, who was in the audience, noted that she had spoken to an attorney about the same issue, and was told the only conflict would be if she or her brother owned a business which sought to do business with the city.
“That would be a conflict for anyone,” Shull confirmed.
The second question dealt with the legality of the city running its own election, and who could legally work the polls.
Shull noted that it is set up in state code that each municipality is responsible for its own election, and if the residents wished to change that, “you should contact your legislators.”
In a related question, Sanders said the city had received a call from the Secretary of State’s Office “indicating that Brandi and (city administrator) Randy Amtower have been tampering with the absentee ballots.
Sanders emphasized that Amtower has nothing to do with “handling the election or election supplies.
“Besides, the city has only received one absentee ballot and it was hand-delivered and signed across the back … so how can we be tampering with them?” she asked.
“They don’t trust the city and they don’t trust the election,” Kitzmiller said, adding that some of the complainants had said because they don’t trust the city officials, “they’re going to come down and help count the ballots” themselves.
“Well that’s not allowed!” she said.
“If someone insists on coming in (while the ballots are being counted), it is my suggestion to call the county prosecutor and have them arrested, because that’s a felony,” Shull said.
At one point, it was implied that resident Mark Tranum, who is on the ballot for a council seat but withdrew from the race, was the one who called the Secretary of State’s Office to complain about Paugh.
Tranum, in the audience Wednesday, took issue with that.
“I want to make it very clear to the city council and the citizens in the back row that never ONCE have I seen anyone on Facebook question Brandi nor have I questioned Brandi,” he said.
“There IS a question about Randy, because he is friends with Mrs. Gank and Mr. Gank … but I have full confidence in Brandi as long as he’s not involved,” he said, pointing to Amtower.
Tranum’s comments sparked a retort from Kitzmiller, who sat in the back of the room with Ashenfelter and corrected him by saying “I am NOT Mrs. Gank!”
Council member Sonny Alt, also a candidate for mayor and who sat in for mayor Ed Miller during the meeting, broke in at that time.
“I will tell you one thing,” he said. “Randy will NOT be involved in the election!”
“The code is very clear,” Shull told them. “Brandi is the person responsible for your election.
“And Brandi,” he said the clerk, “I don’t know you well, but I wouldn’t want to try to sneak something past you,” he said, laughing.
Shull went on to explain that, on election day, there will be four poll workers in the room.
They cannot be anyone on the ballot, or direct family members of anyone on the ballot, and all four people must be in the room at all times.
“If one of them has to go to the bathroom, or go outside to smoke, the door will be locked until they come back,” he said.
It was noted that there are two Saturdays set aside for early voting - June 2 and 9 - and that city employees will be working the polls those days.
Shull told the officials it was pretty much up to them who would work those Saturdays, but the system of checks and balances would be in place by having two people of opposing political parties.
The other question asked of Shull was how a family now residing out of state could legally vote in the Keyser election. When it was noted that the family still maintains a home in Keyser and has not changed their voter registration, Shull confirmed they could still legally vote in Keyser.
Mayoral candidate Damon Tillman asked about the legality of candidates placing campaign signs on city property, and Shull confirmed that is not allowed.
“It is the obligation of the city to remove it as soon as they become aware that it’s there,” he said.
Shull invited anyone with any other concerns or questions to contact him  at 304-553-5449 or by email at dshull@wvsos.gov.