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Enforcing W.Va. Election Rules

March 8, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant should have been able to tell a candidate for the state Senate he wasn't welcome on the primary election ballot. Instead, the state Supreme Court had to do it. That is absurd.

As we have reported, a Wood County resident, Frank Deem, filed to run as a candidate for a state Senate seat from the 3rd Senatorial District. He planned to oppose incumbent state Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, in the Republican primary.

It was pointed out quickly that Deem is not eligible to serve in the state Senate. That is because the West Virginia Constitution clearly and unequivocally states no Senate district can be served by two people from the same county. The Third District already has a senator, Republican David Nohe, who lives in Wood County.

Tennant was well aware of all that. But she said she could not keep Deem off the ballot because her office lacks the authority to make such decisions.

Boley took the case to the state's highest court, which ruled Deem's name cannot appear on the ballot. It was one of the most "open and shut" cases the court has heard recently.

Obviously, state law has to include some limits on the secretary of state's power. While Tennant operates her office in an efficient, ethical manner, West Virginians cannot take the chance that another person in the post might use it for political purposes.

Still, a reasonable amount of latitude to enforce restrictions on candidates ought to be given to the secretary of state. Remember, if she or he abuses the power, the victim can always take the secretary to court.

Legislators have discussed providing more authority to the secretary of state in such matters. They should do just that, without waiting too long for more situations like Deem's to crop up.

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