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Unopposed West Virginia city councilman mistakenly left off ballot, plans to contest election

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With no opposition for his city council seat in a small town on West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, Curtis Mele figured his ticket to a third consecutive term was secure.

Instead, a clerical error left his name off the ballot, and another councilman was listed as the candidate in his district in Benwood. Now, officials in the town of 1,600 are scrambling for a solution, and Mele has hired an attorney to contest the election.

"It might be an honest mistake," Mele said Thursday. "But that's a mistake that should never happen."

Mele, whose name didn't appear anywhere on the May 13 ballot, was one of four unopposed council members.

The responsibility for Benwood's ballot information falls on the office of City Clerk Judy Hunt.

"She dropped the ball, which is now costing me," Mele said.

Hunt referred questions Thursday to city attorney Eric Gordon, who didn't immediately return a telephone message.

Marshall County Clerk Jan Pest said it's up to the cities to get their information right, including how names appear on the ballot.

Pest said cities send their ballot information to her office after the candidate filing period. The county clerk's office then has the information prepared for processing and sends a version back to the cities to be proofread before printing.

Mele said he found out about the ballot mix-up through a phone call more than four hours after the polls opened. He contacted Gordon, and the Secretary of State's office was consulted.

According to Mele, the city could consider a special election or appoint him to serve until the next municipal election in 2016 — two options he finds unacceptable. Mele said a special election brings up the possibility that he would face opposition.

The City Council plans to meet next Tuesday.

Pest said her office certified the election Thursday morning. That clears the way for Mele to contest the results.

Secretary of State spokesman Jake Glance said his office's role is simply to record election results that are certified and passed on by county clerks.

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