CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An elections complaint has been filed over Gov. Jim Justice’s remarks about the state road bond vote to county elections workers earlier this week.
The complaint was filed Wednesday by Rob Cornelius, a Republican operative who said he was filing the complaint not based on party grounds but based on a desire to see elected officials abide by the rules.
Justice is a Republican, although he switched his party affiliation in early August.
“The law applies to both parties equally. Just because you’re in a position of power doesn’t mean you can or should use state resources to try to pressure county employees to affect state election results,” Cornelius said in a brief telephone interview.
“You’ve asked them to change the results of an election to suit you, all the while using public resources and public money. Jim Justice can’t bully our clerks.”
Just because a complaint has been filed, it doesn’t necessarily mean punishment is at hand for the governor. Any person may file a complaint. If the Secretary of State determines that there is no violation, the complaint would be dismissed. The results of the procedures would be published.
The Elections Commission also doesn’t usually make complaints public. In this case, Cornelius did it himself, saying he wants the complaint to be public. Complaintants may request a hearing on the record.
Justice appeared at a training session for elections workers on Monday in Canaan Valley. The session, officially called the election officials conference, is a two-day, biannual event meant to help ensure smooth elections. More than 150 elections workers from all 55 counties were registered for the conference.
The Secretary of State’s office, which hosted the meeting, said Justice was expected to praise elections workers for their effort and to announce a million dollars would be fronted for the cost of the Oct. 7 special election on the road bond.
But Justice went farther than that, promoting the road bond in his remarks. The governor has been on a “Roads to Prosperity” tour of West Virginia communities to promote the bond vote, and he often makes similar remarks from stop to stop.
“You hold everything right now in your hands, and I beg you to talk to any and everybody you may talk to and convince them that this is the beginning. This is not the end, this is the beginning,” Justice said on Monday, touting the thousands of jobs he has said will be created through a major set of highways projects.
The governor began his comments at the training session by thanking the county clerks for all their hard work, including for the special bond election, which falls on a Saturday.
He then spoke about the reasons he believes voting in favor of the bond issue is vital and told the clerks their role is important.
“We’re on our way right now, but I really need you. You hold the key right now, and I know it’s a burden that I’ve laid on your back. And this man is championing it,” Justice said, possibly referring to Secretary of State Mac Warner. “But literally, you have the responsibility to move our state.”
Cornelius has been a vocal opponent of the road bond. He’s the one who in late August drafted a resolution for the state Republican Executive Committee to oppose the road bond based on its possible tax effects.
His ethics commission complaint draws on both a MetroNews story about the governor’s remarks to election workers and a YouTube video of the remarks themselves.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) September 11, 2017
The complaint cites a section of West Virginia code — 3-1-46 — that says state officials cannot appear at election training for county clerks. “No elected official may appear in any training program either in person or by visual image or by name.”
The complaint asks for an investigation of the possible violation of another section of code — WV 3-9-1 — which has to do with tampering with election results. That’s a felony with a punishment of prison time of one to 10 years.
“This attempt to influence an election via its election workers at an official state meeting certainly violates the intent of WV 3-9-1 and I ask the investigators and Commission to examine this closely,” Cornelius wrote in the complaint.
Cornelius wraps up his complaint by saying, “To conclude, Governor Jim Justice is abusing his power, public resources, and several portions of your office’s portion of the WV Code.”