The high numbers of absentee ballots in West Virginia’s primary election last week have left at least a couple major races still undecided. With canvassing now underway, elections officials say those races are expected to have a declared winner in the coming days.
County officials across the state are now going through the process of validating the results from last week’s election, also called canvassing. There are more undecided races than in a regular election year, said Secretary of State Mac Warner, in large part due to the sheer number of absentee ballots. State officials expanded absentee voting to all voters due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We're just glad that so many races were able to be called on election night,” Warner said. “But now we're in that situation where we just really have to have patience until Monday comes — even Tuesday or Wednesday, because there are so many ballots that have to be dealt with.”
As of Monday afternoon, data from the Secretary of State’s office shows that of the more than 262,000 absentee ballots requested this election, nearly 38,000 have not been returned. Monday marks the deadline for absentee ballots to be received.
With that many absentee ballots still potentially uncounted, that’s left a few major races yet to have a declared winner. One is the Division 2 race for Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. According to the latest tally, former state Senator Bill Wooton leads Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit by more than 6,000 votes.
Other marquee races are even closer, including the Democratic nomination for attorney general. The latest results show that Del. Isaac Sponaugle is edging out Sam Petsonk by 889 votes.
“I’m just waiting on Monday for the canvassing — and however how many days it takes for certain counties to canvass — but I have a pretty substantial lead,” Sponaugle said. “And, with that lead, I feel comfortable with where I’m at that, after the canvassing, I'll still be up on top in this attorney general’s race.”
Petsonk also remains hopeful that the results will fall in his favor once canvassing has been completed.
“I won the southern counties — many of them by north of 70 percent,” he said.“We also know that out of the [18,000] to 20,000 outstanding absentee ballots that remain to be counted in Monday's canvass a large majority of those ballots come from those very same counties where I vastly outperformed my opponent in the Democratic primary.”
Another race that’s yet to be decided is the Democratic primary in the 3rd Congressional District. As of now, Lacy Watson is poised to become the state’s first African American candidate for Congress. He currently has a 442 vote lead over Hilary Turner.
“The people of West Virginia have made their voices known, and I'm happy that they had the ability to speak so strongly concerning their opinions,” Watson said. “And I'm looking forward to moving forward to unseat Carol Miller. That's how I feel about the race.”
Turner said her campaign will be keeping a close eye on canvassing but does not plan to contest the results if there are no irregularities.
“We've put, you know, almost a year of work into the primary. So we definitely want to be patient and just see the results,” Turner said. “I know the other side is excited to say they’ve won. But, you know, I feel like it's definitely the right thing to do — to just to wait and see what all the numbers say at the end of it.”
Secretary of State Mac Warner is asking candidates to trust the process. He also cautioned that results remain unofficial until canvassing has been completed and to especially be mindful of close races.
“I'd ask, just like I do with the general public, their patience — because there's no way that we or anybody else can make it work or go faster,” he said. “We can't violate state law. We can't. It's pure speculation.”