State Election Commission criticized in Supreme Court arguments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the state Supreme Court openly questioned Tuesday why the State Election Commission didn’t consider a 1992 opinion about ballot vacancies when it decided to keep a spot open on the Kanawha County ballot.

The State Election Commission was criticized during Tuesday’s arguments at the state Supreme Court.

At issue is whether the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee should be allowed to replace Del. Suzette Raines on the ballot in the 35th District delegate race after Raines withdrew from the race. The SEC decided Aug. 13 Raines’ reasons to get out of the race didn’t meet the standard needed to replace her. Republicans are challenging the ruling. The case was argued for 45-minutes before the High Court Tuesday afternoon.

Justices wondered out loud why the SEC didn’t consult the 22-year-old case Cravotta v. Hechler where then-Justice Tom Miller authored an opinion that ballot vacancies should be “liberally construed” to provide a full selection of candidates for voters.

“That’s ridiculous,” Justice Allen Loughry concluded. “I would hope to goodness that the State Election Commission and the Secretary of State, charged with enforcing the election laws of this state, would understand what the election laws are.”

Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee attorney Mark Carter said there were no substantive differences in this case and the Cravotta case.

“What this case is really about…is whether Cravotta is good law and Cravotta is good law,” Carter said.

The Kanawha County GOP Executive Committee wants to replace Raines with Marie Sprouse-McDavid. West Virginia Democratic Party attorney Chris Regan said that would be unfair to the other candidates.

“At this late date with fewer than 40 days now before the election, with voting begun, they cannot drop a candidate into this race,” he said.

Chief Justice Robin Davis disagreed with Regan about Sprouse-McDavid’s so-called advantage.

“It’s obvious to me you’ve never run for an office because you want to get out there as soon as you can,” Davis said. “Forty days doesn’t give you time to do jack.”

Justice Loughry told Assistant State Attorney General Laura Young he listened to the election commission’s Aug. 13 meeting and they never referred to the case law.

“Do you know how many times Cravotta was discussed during that meeting? I can tell you. I can tell you, zero times. It’s a case that has been on the books for 22 years,” he said.

The Supreme Court is expected to come out with ruling soon. If justices side with the GOP about 50,000 ballots in Kanawha County’s 35th District would have to be reprinted.

There are four open House of Delegate seats in the 35th District race. As it stands now, there are four Democrats on the ballot and three Republicans. Sprouse-McDavid finished fifth in the primary, just missing nomination to the Nov. 4 election.

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