Allowing voters choice in West Virginia

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Democrats are fond of accusing Republicans of “voter suppression,” most often for requirements with which all voters must comply, intended to keep elections honest.

But a very real case of voter and candidate suppression in West Virginia was thwarted only when the state Supreme Court stepped in.

This summer, Republican House of Delegates member Suzette Raines, of the 35th District in Kanawha County, ended her re-election bid. She withdrew as a candidate in the November election.

Members of the state Election Commission, on which Secretary of State Natalie Tennant sits, accepted Raines’ withdrawal. Then they refused to allow the Republican Party to name someone to take Raines’ place.

Had that decision stood, it would have meant automatic election of the Democrat candidate to the House of Delegates, because there would have been no Republican on the ballot.

This week, the Supreme Court – in a unanimous decision – ordered that a Republican, Marie Sprouse-McDavid, be listed as a candidate for the House from the 35th District. In doing so, justices pointed out it was obvious from both state law and a 1992 high court ruling that the Election Commission was in error.

So egregious was the failure that justices went out of their way to criticize both the commission and Tennant, who is the state’s chief election officer. In their written opinion, justices cited “abject failure to be knowledgeable of and to comply with this state’s election laws” by both Tennant and other commission members.

Had the commission’s ruling been let stand, 35th District voters – who, remember, previously had selected Raines, a Republican, to represent them – would have had their choice eliminated. In effect, Republican votes would have been suppressed by knocking a candidate from that party out of the election.

Real suppression – to benefit Democrats – would have occurred.

In this situation, Supreme Court justices had both state law and a prior court ruling to make the issue crystal clear. But the incident should make West Virginians wonder whether Republican voters are being suppressed in other ways in which the law is hazy or, perhaps, actually allows partisan interpretations of the state’s election laws.

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