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Masks, absentee ballots and local politics: COVID-19 election goes on

Mike Still • May 19, 2020 at 8:50 PM

APPALACHIA — Outside the old Appalachia High School, dozens of candidate signs lined the old bus entrance road to the school’s gym. Candidates and supporters — many without masks and less than 6 feet apart — manned tents outside the state-mandated radius around the poll entrance.

Inside the Appalachia polling station, things were different as masked and gloved election workers sat behind Plexiglas shields and with bottles of hand sanitizer nearby.

That was one slice of Tuesday’s local elections across far Southwest Virginia, as officials found ways to conduct an election delayed two weeks in a pandemic. Wise County General Registrar Allison Robbins said poll workers in Appalachia, Pound, Wise, Coeburn and St. Paul were ready and equipped under Gov. Ralph Northam’s mandate for health and safety measures at town and city elections across Virginia.

“They’ve had a good turnout across the county,” Robbins said, about four hours before polls were scheduled to close. “St. Paul and Appalachia were trending over 11% turnout at two o’clock because those were contested elections, and Pound and Coeburn were over 7%.”

Scott County General Registrar Mike Edwards said polls at Gate City, Dungannon and Clinchport were equipped for workers and voters’ safety, but most Gate City voters chose to go in polling stations rather than vote curbside.

“Out of 140 voters earlier today, only five voted outside,” Edwards said.

Edwards and Robbins agreed that absentee ballot voting — encouraged by Northam as part of his pandemic emergency orders in March and April — was higher than normal.

Robbins said that, out of 5,500 eligible town voters for Tuesday’s elections, 480 had requested absentee ballots — 8.7% of those eligible — and 370 ballots had been returned by Tuesday afternoon.

“That’s definitely double or more for a typical town election,” Robbins said. “Particularly in St. Paul, Appalachia and Coeburn; it was probably triple what you’d expect.”

When the November presidential and congressional elections happen, Robbins said it will be interesting to see how any health precautions and absentee balloting affect the countywide electorate of 25,000.

Edwards said Gate City’s vote tally will include about 60 absentee ballots, or double for an election there.

“It’s good for people to have that option,” Edwards said

With congressional primary elections in June and a presidential election in November, Edwards said registrars will be waiting to see how procedures change or remain the same.

“I think you’re going to see this will carry through November,” Edwards said.

Unofficial voting results for Scott, Wise and Lee counties — according to the state Department of Elections website (https://results.elections.virginia.gov/vaelections/2020%20May%20Town%20General/Site/Town/Index.html) were:

Scott County

Gate City

Mayor: Bob R. Richards polled 114 votes to incumbent Frances S. Perry’s 105 votes and two write-in votes.

Town Council (three seats): Wallace W. Ross, Jr. with 116 votes, Allan “Cotton” Roberts with 158 and Tyler W. Kilgore with 175 won election. Ronald W. Kindle had 98 votes, and there were eight write-in votes.

Dungannon

Mayor: Debra B. Horne polled 40 votes against 21 write-in votes.

Town Council (five seats): Nina Begley with 47 votes, James M. Lane with 40, George E. Hensley with 44, Kristi Summey Farmer with 49 and Tarese A. Kramer with 45 all won council seats. There were 18 write-in votes.

Clinchport

Mayor: 6 write-in votes — final results expected Wednesday.

Town Council (five seats): 30 write-in votes — final results expected Wednesday.

Town recorder: 6 write-in votes — final results expected Wednesday.

Wise County

Appalachia

Town Council (three seats): Johnny Lee Chandler with 168 votes, Chris A. Williams with 163 and Eddie R. Gollaway with 94 votes won election. Gary W. Williams Sr. had 83 votes, Jackie L. Johnson 73 votes, Sharon L. Hatfield 58 votes and Shawn E. Riley 46 votes. There were 15 write-in votes.

Coeburn

Town Council (three seats): Jeffrey G. “Jeff” Kiser with 149 votes, Joe B. Still with 131 and Carles E. Collins with 101 won election. Roger D. Sartin had 60 votes and Robert T. Barnette 86. There were four write-in votes.

Pound

Mayor: Stacey A. Carson polled 60 votes against 68 write-in votes.

Town Council (three seats) Marley M. Green had 111 votes and Clifton D. Cauthorne, Jr. and Glenn M. Cantrell each received 93 votes. George R. “James” Micha received 73 votes and Hollis E. “Eddie” Bevins, Jr. 17 votes. There were 47 write-in votes.

St. Paul

Mayor: Ken R. Holbrook with 171 votes defeated incumbent Mayor H. Kyle Fletcher with 82 votes. There were three write-in votes.

Town Council (three seats): J Tim Boardwine with 182 votes, Josh S. Sawyers with 189 and Samuel M. “Matt” Jordan with 177 votes won council seats. Harry L. Kelly polled 116 votes. There were two write-in votes.

Wise

Town Council (two seats). Ben N. Conway with 87 votes and Jeffery W. Dotson with 107 won council seats. There were three write-in votes.

Lee County

St. Charles

Mayor (no candidates on the ballot): Zero write-in votes.

Town Council (six seats, no candidates on the ballot): Zero write-in votes.

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