Don Blankenship is persistent.
The former Massey Energy CEO ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate. However, even being in the race and finishing third was remarkable considering he was fresh off a one-year prison term after a conviction for conspiracy to commit mine safety violations as a result of the investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, where 29 men died.
Blankenship followed his loss with a switch to the Constitution Party, which has so few members that it falls under “other” in the Secretary of State’s party registration categories. He hoped to parlay that into access to the November ballot so he could continue his Senate bid.*
Blankenship secured the talents of attorney Bob Bastress to represent him. That was the right choice since Bastress is an expert and has argued ballot access cases since 1980. It did, however, make for an odd couple, since Bastress a is liberal WVU law professor and Blankenship is, well, Blankenship. Bastress took the case without pay.
Nevertheless, the state Supreme Court, with three appointed justices (and that’s another story), made quick work of the request. No, Blankenship would not be permitted on the November General Election ballot, thus upholding a decision by the Secretary of State’s office to keep Blankenship off because of the state’s “sore loser” law.
That law says any candidate for nomination by a recognized political party (a party whose candidate for governor received at least one percent of the vote in the preceding election) may not, after failing to win the primary, become a candidate for the same office by switching to an unrecognized party.
Bastress argued that the law treats the minor parties and their candidates unfairly. However, traditionally, states are given wide latitude to conduct their elections as long as they do not violate anyone’s constitutional rights.
We do not yet know the West Virginia Supreme Court’s reasoning—it rushed out its decision with its explanation to follow—but it is likely the Justices agreed with other courts that have repeatedly upheld sore loser laws as permissible acts by state legislatures.
The whole point of a Primary Election is to weed out some of the candidates. Imagine if many of those candidates who lost could switch parties and show up on the General Election ballot. That would create considerable confusion among voters, while allowing an undeserved “second chance” for candidates who the voters have already rejected once.
Blankenship has left open the possibility of an additional challenge. “Americans desperately need to pay attention as the politicians continue to move voters to the sidelines and out of the election process,” Blankenship said following Wednesday’s decision.
Actually, voters did participate in the election process in the May primary, and those results speak for themselves.
*(Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the Republican nomination and faces Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin in November.)