The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office is preparing for what is expected to be a contentious argument over whether Don Blankenship should be allowed on the November General Election ballot as a U.S. Senate candidate representing the Constitution Party.
Blankenship finished third in the Republican Primary for Senate last May—Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the race—but soon switched his registration to the Constitution Party and announced he had secured that party’s nomination to run for the seat now held by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.
The former Massey Energy CEO, who served a year in prison after a federal conviction for violating mine safety standards, must gather 6,602 signatures from registered voters to qualify.* A news release Tuesday from the Constitution Party said, “a sufficient number of registered voters have signed forms in favor of Mr. Blankenship’s candidacy.”
The Secretary of State’s Office said, as of Wednesday afternoon, it had only received 5,400 signatures, and after reviewing approximately two-thirds of them it was determined that only about 55 percent were valid. Blankenship has until August 1st to submit the required number of valid signatures.
A spokesman for Blankenship updated those figures later in the day, saying the campaign had turned in 7,500 signatures and it expected to have 11,000 by Friday.
The Constitution Party release said that Blankenship will file a certificate of nomination “in the coming week.” The Secretary of State’s Office is expected to deny Blankenship a spot on the ballot, even if he has enough valid signatures, because of the state’s “sore loser” law.
That law, which was tightened up by the Legislature earlier this year, is designed to prevent a candidate who loses in the Primary Election, from switching parties and running in the same race in the General Election. Constitution Party Executive Committee Vice Chairman Phil Hudok argues that the law is flawed.
“The provision is a clear and unlawful violation of the rights of equal protection and due process under the United States Constitution, as well as the West Virginia Constitution,” said Hudok in a news release.
That will be up to a court to decide. The Secretary of State’s Office would normally be represented by the Attorney General, but since current AG Patrick Morrisey is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, the state has hired outside counsel—Marc Williams and Melissa Bird from the Huntington office of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough.
The attorneys for the state will likely argue that previous legal challenges have determined that Article IV, Section 11 of the state Constitution gives the Legislature wide latitude in determining how elections are conducted. But we know Blankenship is headstrong and he will likely pursue every legal avenue to try to get on the ballot.
*(Candidates seeking ballot access by petition must obtain valid signatures totaling at least 1 percent of the total vote in the previous gubernatorial election. In this case, that number is 6,602.)