Benwood Councilman Mistakenly Left Off Ballot

BENWOOD – While city officials say an error which resulted in a Benwood City Council member seeking re-election being left off the May 13 ballot is an honest mistake, a court could decide if further action is needed.

Council members are expected to determine what action could be taken during Tuesday’s meeting.

Curtis Mele, who represents Benwood’s 1st Ward, was one of four council members up for re-election this year. Others included Larry Ferrera III in the 2nd Ward; Water Yates in the 3rd Ward; and Robert Rose in the 4th Ward. All four men filed for re-election and were running unopposed.

But Mele’s name did not appear on the May 13 ballot, which instead listed Councilman Chuck Terry as the candidate running unopposed in the 1st Ward. Terry discovered the error when he voted on May 13, and reported it to city officials.

Terry and three other members of council have terms that extend through the spring of 2016, including John Kazemka in the 2nd Ward; Lori Longwell in the 3rd Ward; and Carl Richter in the 4th Ward.

“This should have been such an easy election since everyone was running unopposed,” said Mayor Ed Kuca. “Then we found out we had the wrong name on the ballot. Chuck Terry still has two years left on his term … his name was on instead of Curt Mele’s.”

City Attorney Eric Gordon has been in contact with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, seeking advice on how the city next should proceed, according to Kuca.

“I can see a reason why Councilman Mele is upset,” he said. “He was running unopposed, and all the residents were happy with how he has been running the city.”

Mele couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

City Clerk Judy Hunt is responsible for sending the ballot information to the Marshall County Clerk’s Office, and Police Chief Frank Longwell – who also ran unopposed for re-election – said the error slipped pass city officials who regarded it as an unopposed election.

“They might have to have another election,” Longwell said. “No one filed against him the first time, and I can’t see anyone filing against him a second time.”

The Secretary of State’s Office said the office learned of the ballot mix up in Benwood at 4 p.m. on Election Day, according to spokesman Jake Glance.

Glance said the office can’t involve itself in the Benwood City Council race, as the election results have been certified, and that the matter likely will be decided in court.

Kuca said it isn’t likely a city employee will be punished for the election error.

“It was an honest mistake – I haven’t heard any council members say that (it wasn’t),” he said. “They understand we’re all human, and make mistakes. We’ve all made human errors in our lifetime.”