By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Forrest “Buddy” Ellifritz is the apparent winner in the hotly contested race for Mineral County sheriff, with unofficial results giving him 2,209 votes over R. Keith Anderson’s 1,805.
Rod Ryan came in third with 827 votes and Jon Baniak, 697.
The results were finally tabulated Wednesday morning once the county was able to get their ballot-counting machine up and running again with the help of a technician from Morgantown.
County personnel started opening the approximately 2,700 absentee ballots promptly at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but the process took 2 1/2 hours, as each ballot had to be removed from the outer envelope it was mailed in and then had to be separately removed from the white secrecy envelope.
Once the absentee ballots were all removed and unfolded, the folds - and the sheer number of ballots - proved to be too much for the machine and at times it literally spit out every ballot which, in turn, had to be examined.
At one point personnel brought in large, heavy record books and placed them on top of the ballots to try to straighten them out.
Once all the absentee ballots were run through the machine at approximately 2:30 a.m., counting the ballots from each of the 26 precincts went pretty smoothly … until a mechanical failure brought the entire thing to an abrupt halt at approximately 4:15 a.m.
With seven precincts left to be counted, a sensor on the ballot counting machine stopped reading the ballots and after attempting several adjustments, county clerk Lauren Ellifritz was forced to wait until a technician could be reached Wednesday morning.
Once the technician arrived from Morgantown, he was able to switch out one of the sensors and the remaining precincts were counted.
And while the results are never final until the votes are canvassed, once again this election defies the normal procedures, as there are 193+ provisional ballots yet to be checked and an entire stack of absentee ballots that arrived in the mail today.
In order to be legally counted, absentee ballots must be postmarked on Election Day, so the county could conceivably receive additional ballots through the week.
The additional votes are not expected to change the results of the sheriff’s race or the board of education race, where Donald Ashby Jr. won the seat in District 1 with 3,764 votes to William “Butch” Wahl’s 3,352.
Tom Denne, running for re-election to his District 2 seat, had 5,382 votes.
All the other races in Mineral County were uncontested.