BEDFORD - A pair of court-ordered recounts, the second held Monday, overturned the results of a Nov. 5 Kimmel Township supervisor race and are set to send a write-in incumbent back to the township board.
Initial results in November showed Lester Musselman, a write-in candidate who sits on the board, losing to Republican challenger Dan Potter by a single vote. The vote tally was 142 to 141, with 80 votes to a third candidate and a handful cast for others in the rural township of about 1,600 people.
The razor-thin margin prompted Musselman to file a recount request shortly after the election, Bedford County Commissioners Chairman Kirt Morris said Thursday.
That recount, held the day before Thanksgiving, revealed a substantial win for Musselman - a reversal and a change of nearly 20 votes, Morris said.
"It was a mess," he said.
The wide disparity had some county officials concerned that voting machines were defective, Morris said.
But the recount showed a possible explanation for the change: Some voters had written Musselman's name, but failed to fill a circle that lets the machine count the vote. Others had filled a straight Republican ticket but written Musselman's name instead of filling Potter's circle, making the count more confusing.
Potter appealed the recount, and Bedford County President Judge Thomas Ling ordered a third count to be done Monday.
Four lawyers and a selection of local and county officials were present for that recount, Morris said. The only question was how to interpret the unclear write-in votes.
"What it boils down to is how people voted," he said, noting that court precedents have lent support for several interpretations. "There are arguments both ways; there are court cases both ways."
Bedford County officials have traditionally followed the voter's intent, he said.
If someone has taken the time to write a name but forgot to fill the circle, counters assume he or she wanted to vote for the written name. For the Monday count, however, Ling narrowed the results only to those who filled their ballots correctly.
The Monday recount ended with Musselman's victory confirmed, but by a notably smaller margin than before, Morris said.
Neither Musselman nor Potter returned calls seeking comment Thursday.
While this week's recount represented a shift from the county's normal vote-counting rules, Morris said officials will likely use their voter-intent rule of thumb for future elections.
Ling will certify the new result in early January, Morris said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.