photo by: Joselyn King
WHEELING – An Ohio County official testified Monday that Dolph Santorine does presently live in the county’s 2nd Magisterial District, but representation for the Ohio County Republican Executive Committee contends he didn’t on Election Day.
Court proceedings took place Monday morning in Santorine’s legal battle against the Ohio County GOP. Despite Santorine winning a District 2 seat on the GOP executive committee in the May 10 election, the committee believes he lives in District 1 and has opted not to seat him.
Following arguments, Circuit Judge David Sims directed counsel to submit findings and conclusions to him before the end of the day on Friday. He indicated he would rule on the case sometime next week.
Sims cautioned Ohio County GOP Chairwoman Elgine McArdle – also the attorney representing the Ohio County GOP – that the existing committee should take no action when it meets privately for a scheduled meeting Thursday night at McArdle’s office. He explained doing so could set up the committee for further litigation if he were to rule that they should seat Santorine.
Sims’ ruling should come well before July 30, when the West Virginia Republican Party meets in Charleston to select its new chair. Both McArdle and Santorine had announced they intend to seek the state party leadership at the meeting.
Santorine was represented Monday by attorney Martin Sheehan, who also is a former chairman of the Ohio County Republican Party.
Santorine realized when he want to vote on Election Day that his name wasn’t on his ballot, then he discovered he was voting on a District 1 ballot.
He told the court he has lived at 134 Falls Road since Dec. 20, 2007, and has been a resident of District 2 since that time. He added that while he received notice last year that his voting precinct was being changed, he was not notified of a change in magisterial district.
The first witness called to testify by Sheehan was County Chief Financial Director Rod Archie. Archie said it was he, Administrator Randy Russell and Toni Chieffalo, coordinator of elections, who investigated the matter after it was reported by Santorine.
Archie said Santorine told him in the initial call he did not vote the ballot he received because he believed he received an incorrect one.
Sims asked Archie in what district Santorine lives. “District 2,” he responded.
“The West Virginia Secretary of State has him in District 1, he voted in District 1,” McArdle told the judge.
“So that’s a problem,” Sims said.
Sims next asked County Solicitor Don Tennant, present to answer any county-related issues, if there were any issues pertaining to the county’s redistricting maps this year. He said there was a dispute as to how the Secretary of State’s Office reported the race on its website, and he said Archie could better explain.
“The investigation revealed that at the time of redistricting, the mapping database was incorrectly changed for voters in Magisterial District 2, and put them in Magisterial District 1,” Archie said.
Sheehan asked him at whose direction the maps were changed.
“It was done by an employee who made a mistake,” Archie answered.
The result was that 56 voters were improperly moved from District 2 to District 1 without the change going before or being approved by county commissioners. A similar change for voters in South Wheeling was passed by the commission, according to Archie.
The maps have since been changed to show the districts reverting back to their past boundaries, he continued.
McArdle pushed that election maps in the county commission office, nevertheless, showed Santorine’s home in District 1 on Election Day. She also asserted that it was Santorine’s responsibility to check out and learn for certain in which magisterial district he resided.
She noted that he attended a campaign forum at the Scottish Rite Cathedral prior to the election that encouraged candidates to review their residency on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website. Instructions on how to do so were placed on each attendee’s seat, and there also were people present at the forum with a computer who could check for them if that were needed.
McArdle asked Santorine while he was on the stand whether he had done “due diligence” and checked the maps in the commission office before filing.
Santorine said he knew there could be issues and had looked at the Secretary of State’s Office maps online, as well as the redistricting legislation passed by the West Virginia Legislature.
The legislation “drives the maps,” according to Santorine.
Next, he went to the county commission office and consulted with Chieffalo.
Santorine acknowledged he didn’t look at the maps himself on the day he filed for office, but instead took Chieffalo’s word that he lived in District 2 and was filing correctly.
Lastly, McArdle asked Santorine why he neglected to apply for appointment to an open seat in District 1 on the board after there were questions about his victory in District 2.
“Why should I apply to a position I won in an election by a landslide,” he responded. “I won not just by a little. I won by a lot.”
Santorine captured 537 votes in the race for the District 2-male seat on the County GOP Executive Committee. Greg Smith received the second seat with 403 votes; and Alex Coogan, had 397; Russell Hardman, 241; and Michael Borsuk, 214.
McArdle then rephrased the question and asked him if he had the opportunity to apply for the District 1 seat.
“I do not believe I had that opportunity,” Santorine said. “I believe if I had applied for that seat, I would have forfeited the fact that I had won the election – and that Elgine would have instructed people on the committee to see that I didn’t get a seat.”
McArdle provided transcripts from the committee’s recent meetings where there was talk about Santorine and seating him. The transcripts indicate she made no remarks to them during the meeting about Santorine, and that she as chair did not vote on the motion to not seat him.
“You’ve pretty much got a committee that at some point has been appointed by Elgine,” Santorine said. “Organization dynamics are such that Elgine is a force, and they knew in no uncertain term … that she would do everything in her power to make certain I was not seated on the committee.”
McArdle ended by asserting the error in the election falls on the Ohio County Commission, who is not a party to Santorine’s suit.