HAMLIN, W.Va. -- A circuit judge threw out more than 300 contested absentee ballots Monday in Lincoln County's primary election and ordered county officials to declare incumbent Circuit Clerk Charles Brumfield the winner of the clerk's race in the May 11 primary.
Brumfield was winning at the polls on Election Day, but lost to Jerry Bowman, who is now the county sheriff, after more than 600 absentee ballots were counted. Of the absentee ballots cast, 511 went to Bowman, or a ratio of about 9 to 1.
Phoebe Harless lost to incumbent Lincoln County Commissioner Thomas Ramey Jr. by a similar margin after absentee ballots were counted. Both Harless and Brumfield contested the election results, which went to Lincoln Circuit Court.
Raleigh Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III was appointed to hear evidence in the case after both of Lincoln County's judges recused themselves.
Kirkpatrick ruled last week that Harless was disqualified from running for the Lincoln County Commission because she lived in the same magisterial district as current County Commissioner Charles Vance.
Although Vance had been elected in a different district, Kirkpatrick ruled that he actually lived in the same district as Harless at the time of his election. State law prohibits two county commissioners from serving from the same district.
Trial was to have begun Monday on Brumfield's remaining election challenge. But attorneys for Brumfield and Bowman instead spent more than four hours trying to work out a settlement that would avoid a five-day trial.
Lawyers spent the day looking at absentee ballot applications, discussing election law and working out legal language for the proposed settlement.
In the end, Kirkpatrick agreed to throw out 309 questionable absentee ballot requests. Those ballots were enough to swing the results of the May 11 primary back in favor of Brumfield. Kirkpatrick ordered Lincoln County commissioners to declare Brumfield winner of the primary election for circuit clerk. Brumfield will be unopposed in the November general election.
Harvey Peyton, Brumfield's lawyer, said more than 200 of the absentee ballot requests were partly or completely filled out by someone other than the absentee voter, and should have been thrown out. Another 100 or so absentee voters gave questionable reasons for wanting to cast absentee ballots.