By Ken Bustin
The Hardy County Commissioners held a special meeting last Tuesday, August 9, primarily to discuss and approve issues related to the upcoming November 8 General Election, though the Commission did address other business which was timely.
All Commissioners were participating in the session, though Commissioner David Workman, in COVID quarantine, was doing so by telephone.
Before it tackled any of the items on the agenda, however, it first turned its attention to questions from County Tax Assessor Jim Wratchford about possible exoneration of taxes which had been levied and paid because of incorrectly filled out forms, a situation he believed had arisen from honest oversight. The forms had failed to clearly designate which district the taxable property was located in, and as a result, the taxes had been incorrectly overpaid for several years before the error had been noticed.
The law allows for incorrectly paid taxes to be addressed for a period of two years, but Wratchford felt the circumstances of this situation warranted that the Commission consider exoneration for the longer period.[private]
Although the Commissioners were not disinclined to consider the issue, it was quickly pointed out that it could not result in any action at this meeting, since it had not been included on the agenda. Accordingly, they asked that it be put on the agenda for their September meeting and brought up again at that time.
The Commission also received an update about the new pavilion, currently under construction. The project was making good progress, said Parks & Recreation Board Member, Bob Taylor. The next week would see the roof added to the rest rooms.
The funding, however, was going to be inadequate, he estimated, by about $40-45,000 and they were soon going to have to come back to the Commission to ask them to approve additional funds to cover the shortfall.
Much of the gap, Taylor said, was being caused by inflation. Prices had increased sharply on materials since the project was originally planned. The material for the metal roof accounted for about $9,000 of the increase. The original quotes had been for about $54,000, but when it came time to order the roofing material, the actual price had jumped to $63,000.
Additionally, he said, two items had been overlooked in the original cost estimates. Potomac Edison had charged $6,600 to run electrical cable to the property, a task that had been done without charge in previous projects of this kind. And they had not budgeted for the roadway to the property.
But the project should be nearly completed by month’s end, the Commissioners were told. Once the actual costs could be more accurately quantified, they would be back to ask the Commission for the additional funds needed.
For the next project, it was planned to build a bridge across the nearby gully. Moran said, however, that funding for that and other remaining items would be able to be funded from hotel/motel tax revenues.
Parks & Recreation Director Anthony Rao was asked how the new tractor, the funding of which was approved at a recent Commission meeting, was performing. He reported that it was doing very well and they were very pleased with it.
Moving to the actual agenda, the first issue to be addressed was the Emergency Absentee Voting Policy for the 2022 General Election. County Clerk Gregg Ely, who is in charge of the election efforts, told the Commission that the cutoff for emergency absentee voting should be established for 12 noon on election day that day. He explained that when a request is received for an emergency absentee ballot, as could be made by someone in the hospital or someone finding themselves unexpectedly in a nursing home or rehab, two election commissioners would be dispatched with a paper ballot to allow them to vote.
In response to a question from the Commissioners as to the frequency of these requests, Ely said it had happened “only about three times” since he had been in office.
Commissioner Steve Schetrom moved that the policy be adopted, and with a second from Workman, it was promptly brought to a vote and passed unanimously.
The second item concerning the elections to be brought to the Commission for approval, was a list of the needed election workers. Ely presented the Commissioners with a list how the 115 workers being sought would be deployed.
Ely said the projected breakdown would call for 70 poll workers. Five would be needed for each precinct, and it was hoped to recruit 28 Democrats and 42 Republicans. Twenty-eight additional, two per precinct, would be needed to serve as alternates, a group he hoped could be evenly split, with 14 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Five people, two Democrats and three Republicans, would be needed for the Central Counting Board, with two additional people needed, one from each party, for the Central Resolution Board. Five Rovers were needed, and those were projected to be three Democrats, one Republican, and one non-partisan. Early voting would be handled by three people, including one Democrat, one Republican and one non-partisan. And finally, two Emergency Absentee Ballot Commissioners would be available for emergency absentee voting requests, as per the policy the Commission had approved only moments before.
Responding to a question about how efforts to find volunteers for the positions was progressing, Ely said he would be commencing his efforts to reach out for them once the Commission approved his list.
Schetrom promptly moved that the list be approved. Workman offered a second, and the ensuing vote saw all three Commissioners in favor.
Stephen Smith, who had inquired at a previous Commission meeting whether or not paper ballots were going to be available in the upcoming election, was in the audience and once again raised the question.
Ely said that the cost for printing paper ballots would be about $3,600. The Secretary of State said enough ballots would need to be on hand to accommodate 80% of the voting turnout, though he expected that only a very small fraction of those voting would request them. He pointed out that the type of voting machine used by Hardy County generated a paper copy for the voter to take to the ballot box, which provided the ability to double check that the machine had accurately reflected their choices.
Smith said six states are investigating going back to paper ballots. He said that in a recent election, France had successfully tabulated 70 million paper ballots in a single night, in response to concerns raised about whether the added demands of counting physical paper ballots would delay election results unacceptably.
“I think it’s kind of a waste,” opined Workman, lamenting the cost and noting that in the past, although it had been necessary to print a large number of ballots, only a small number had turned out to be requested and used.
“I think that there will be more people asking for paper ballots than usual,” predicted Smith.
Schetrom noted that Federal law required the use of machines, and noted that even the paper ballots would be counted by machine. “I’m very confident about what we do,” he declared, noting that because the same method of machine tabulation was used in both cases, providing paper ballots “…didn’t really solve anything.”
Commissioner David Fansler asked Ely if he had gotten any feedback from poll workers about the paper ballots.
“Only in one precinct,” Ely replied.
Although he intended to vote to provide the paper ballots, Schetrom reiterated, “This is not really solving the problem. I’m not really in favor of this.”
“We certainly don’t want to deny anyone a vote,” said Workman firmly.
Paper ballots will be provided for this election. Ely said he would be placing the order immediately.
The final item of business on the agenda was the approval of recommended Orders regarding claims against the estate of Barbara Ann Connor. This was given by unanimous vote of the Commission without significant further discussion.[/private]
The next regular meeting of the Hardy County Commission will be on Tuesday, September 6 in the Commission Meeting Room at the courthouse, at 9 a.m.