FAIRMONT — Recounts in Fairmont have reversed election results for City Council, unofficially seating Joshua Rice and Barry Bledsoe to the seats.
In District 1, Josh Rice received 1,734 votes, followed by Marcella Yaremchuk with 1,728 and Susan McCollum with 1,723. In District 5, Barry Bledsoe had 883 votes, compared to Houston Richardson’s 880 and Chuck Warner’s 855.
“I’m glad it’s over, and I still have faith in the system even though this has been a long process,” Bledsoe said following the announcement.
Marion County Commissioner Randy Elliott said he’s still baffled by the situation, losing 57 ballots out of the county’s 280 voting machines.
But Bledsoe said despite the confusion, he’s not discouraged by the process.
“I think we’ve been using them for 18 years, and this is the first time this has come up, so I still have faith in the system we use and the people who operate it,” he said.
And of course, he’s happy with the results.
“I’m glad I won,” Bledsoe said. “I want to do some things in Fairmont and hopefully see some changes, but more than anything I’m just glad that the voters’ voice was heard. To me that was more important than even winning.
“I would like to be able to, as part of council, dissect the city of Fairmont, and look at different departments and avenues and see where there’s issues that maybe we can make positive changes, maybe re-prioritize so that we can use monies to give raises that the city employees desperately need, do some more things that we need to get done in the city. I just think we need to look and see how we can be more efficient,” he said.
Rice, on the other hand, isn’t so much relieved that the process is over but said he is instead happy that the next chapter is beginning.
“I just want to get in and work with the council and start off my off on the council,” he said.
“It’s great. I feel it makes it all worth its while going through all this,” Rice said. “Now after all this has come, the people, their words were heard and their votes counted and it prevailed. It feels good.”
Having been down two votes before the discovery of the 57 missed ballots, Rice admits he was nervous going into Friday’s recount.
“I wish we would’ve shot foul shots instead of flipping buttons,” he joked. “Now you come in here today and find out about those 57 votes after you keep wondering for a week if any of them are for me. That’s a good area, but it definitely feels good to come out on top.”
The one good side of the past two months, Rice said, is that it’s brought all of the candidates closer.
“We came into this saying, ‘If you get on and you need anything, you come to me with it and I’ll help you,’” he said. “I really took that when Marcella (Yaremchuk) came to me after she won at the tiebreaker. She told me if I ever heard of anything to come to her and let her know and that she’d help me out and do what she needed to, and I feel the same way for her. We definitely got close in this, and with Susan (McCollum) coming in at the end, we’ve all got a friendship throughout this.”
Yaremchuk agreed, noting that they also sat together in camaraderie as they awaited the results Friday morning.
“We were all okay with whoever the winner was. We will all continue to work together. We want for the betterment of Fairmont,” she said. “We sat together when we were at the courthouse waiting for the judge’s decision. It was a united front. We all want what’s best for Fairmont. It’s all good.”
That unity is particularly important in a town like Fairmont, Yaremchuk said.
“This is a small town,” she said. “We can’t be divided. We have to work together.”
Rice said he looks forward to working together with his fellow councilmen and women.
“But I don’t want to get ahead of myself because you never know if something like this is going to happen. It’s been so crazy,” he said. “Right now I’m just focusing on working with the other people on council and trying to work with the things that they have started in the city.”
Candidates have 48 hours to request a recount, followed by a 10-day contest period in which the election can be contested. As a result, it may be the first meeting of February before the new council members take their seats.
“It depends on city council as to what happens,” said Tom Antulov, deputy county clerk for the Marion County Clerk’s Office. “It depends also on the races. One may want one and another may not, so there’s still some things at play there.”
While Antulov said the county followed the proper protocol outlined by Judge Wilson, the hope is that such an incident does not occur again in the future.
“The thing that bothers us is that it happened and that it’s put a lot of candidates in limbo for such a long time,” he said. “We’re hopeful that it’ll end, but there’s procedures that need to be followed. We’re going to allow everybody to have that right according to the law, and we will follow that.”