Former Lincoln commission candidate files suit over ballot stuffing

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 21, 2012

Harless CHARLESTON - A former Lincoln County Commission candidate has filed a lawsuit in federal court for at least $57,000 in attorney's fees and expenses, plus compensatory and punitive damages, saying the 2010 primary election was "contaminated."




CHARLESTON - A former Lincoln County Commission candidate has filed a lawsuit in federal court for at least $57,000 in attorney's fees and expenses, plus compensatory and punitive damages, saying the 2010 primary election was "contaminated."

Maria "Phoebe" Harless filed her 17-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston May 10.

The named defendants include: Lincoln County commissioners Charles McCann, Thomas Ramey Jr. and Dr. Charles Vance; Judy Johnson, commission secretary; Donald Whitten, former commission clerk; Jerry Bowman, former Lincoln County Sheriff; Wandell "Rocky" Adkins, a former felon; and the West Virginia Counties Group Self Insurance Risk Pool.

Harless, who alleges that the defendants' actions deprived her of her equal protection and due process rights under the 14th Amendment, called their conduct "outrageous" and "unconscionable," saying it would "shock the conscience of any reasonably prudent human being."

Both Harless and Ramey were Democratic candidates for the county commission in the May 11, 2010 primary.

According to Harless' complaint, when the polls closed that day, she had won the nomination based on the votes cast in-person at the polls and in-person early voting.

Days later, the commission, sitting as a board of canvassers, certified the results and declared Ramey the winner following a recount of all absentee ballots in the Democratic primary.

Harless argues in her filing that the manner in which the absentee ballots were filled out and collected prior to the election was "illegal" and "unlawful" and "the result of a conspiracy" between the defendant office holders -- with the exception of Vance.

She contends the defendants were affiliated with a political action committee called the Lincoln County Democratic Committee, or LCDC.

The LCDC is a separate political group from the county's Democratic Executive Committee, an official arm of the state's Democratic Party.

Johnson served as its treasurer. Major contributors to the PAC included McCann, Whitten and Bowman, Harless alleges.

Harless alleges that Whitten, Bowman, Ramey and other "political operatives," including Adkins, visited various county residents to have them sign up for absentee ballots, even though they knew the residents' reasons for the ballots were false.

In particular, she alleges Bowman completed as many as 84 applications, most in front of Witten, who then took them to the courthouse.

"None of these applications disclosed that assistance was provided to the voter; many of these applications contained knowingly false statements regarding the reasons given by voters requesting absentee ballots by mail," Harless wrote in her filing.

She alleges that Whitten, Bowman, Ramey and Adkins often would follow-up with the voters they solicited, making sure they received the absentee ballots in the mail.

They would even goes as far as being in the voters' homes when they marked their ballots and then deliver them to the courthouse, if needed, according to her complaint.

In addition, Harless alleges that three men -- Dewayne Morris, Joseph Clark and Ricky Maynard -- were paid by the LCDC to work as political operatives on election day, even though they had signed up to cast absentee ballots themselves.

Harless contends the primary was the result of "irregularities in the conduct of the election and of such fraud or misconduct as prevented the expression of the will of the voters of Lincoln County, undermined the organic processes by which candidates are elected and undermined the integrity of the election process to such a degree that it rendered" the 2010 primary "fundamentally unfair."

She says the situation has caused her "intentional infliction of mental and emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment." She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in no set amount.

She is represented by Harvey D. Peyton of the Peyton Law Firm PLLC in Nitro.

The 2010 primary is already the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.

Earlier this year, Whitten admitted to obstruction by lying to federal investigators about his role in the ballot-stuffing scheme, and resigned as a result.

Bowman also resigned earlier this year after he admitted to falsifying absentee ballot applications.

Ramey remains on the commission, but is believed to be a focus of the federal investigation.

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