Jim King 2017

Finishing Up colun logo

Sometimes change just doesn’t come easy.

Ask the folks in Harpers Ferry, the historic town at the eastern tip of West Virginia in Jefferson County. Residents there are still waiting for the results of their town election that was held last June.

It seems the folks who have been in power can’t let go and with good reason.

The tiny (0.62 square miles, 286 people) town sweeps up from the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers to a place called the Hill Top House Hotel. It has set empty for years, but developers have a $130 million dollar makeover on the table that has turned Harpers Ferry into opposing camps that may be more at odds than the blue and gray.

The plan would eliminate roads, although several of those are merely lines on a map and never were actual asphalt. Nevertheless, the changes would cut off public access to the hilltop.

The issue was so divisive that 13 people ran for office in last June’s election. The incumbent mayor and recorder each faced a challenger. Four council members whose seats were up faced 5 challengers.

The results were so close that just a handful of votes separated the 3rd- and 4th-place finishers from the top 3 losers.

That’s when the ballot count became an issue.

Four people who voted had their ballots thrown out because the town’s election officials — that is, the current town council — ruled that they weren’t residents. Their addresses were reported as being in neighboring Bolivar.

But the 4 actually live in Harpers Ferry, paying taxes and utilities there. We don’t know how they voted, but judging by who supports counting their ballots and who opposes it, their votes could tip the scales in favor of Hill Top backers.

State law says their votes should be counted, but Harpers Ferry’s council, meeting as the election commission, said no.

Sadly, 2 of the people who made that decision shouldn’t have because they were candidates in the contested election. As incumbent members of the council, they were by default members of the election board, but the state Ethics Commission has said that people whose candidacy could be affected by a recount shouldn’t vote on issues relating to the balloting.

They ignored that ruling.

So the losers went to court and a circuit judge said the contested ballots had to be counted and set a date for the count.

The mayor and council members just didn’t show up for that meeting.

Instead, they appealed to the Supreme Court, which is getting the last briefs this week and will rule — soon, we hope — on the issue.

Secretary of State Mac Warner has filed a brief supporting the people whose ballots weren’t counted. In all likelihood, the state’s highest court is going to order the ballots be counted.

Somehow, I think there should be more.

The folks in power, who have fought underhanded at every turn against counting the ballots, should be punished for their defiance, particularly for the stunt of just not showing up to carry out the judge’s orders.

And that doesn’t even address another matter that never made it to court. Our sister paper, the Spirit of Jefferson, reported that at least one woman who voted in that election was a relative of one of the incumbents who actually lives — and is registered to vote — in Utah.

The saying goes that all politics is local. In the enclave of Harpers Ferry, that’s readily apparent.

Good politics means fighting for what you believe. But it also means abiding by the rules and accepting the will of the people, win or lose. Cheating to win has no place in our system.

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