- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia House lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday to make elections nonpartisan for magistrates and judges, including state Supreme Court justices.

The Republican-led House of Delegates voted 90-9 to get rid of party affiliations in the elections starting in 2016, a move GOP lawmakers said would remove, at least, the appearance of partisan bias in judges.

The change would apply to the Supreme Court, magistrates, circuit courts and family courts. The elections would take place during the May primary.

“This removes the taint of a partisan election from the operation of our judiciary,” said Del. John Shott, R-Mercer.

West Virginia is one of just seven states with judges elected on partisan lines, Shott said. Supreme Court justices, for instance, are voted in for 12-year terms during staggered elections.

A handful of Democrats said the proposal wouldn’t address existing problems campaign money’s influence over judges.

Del. Tim Manchin, D-Marion, offered an amendment Tuesday that would have provided a public campaign financing program for circuit judges. Something similar is already in place for the Supreme Court.

Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, added that party affiliation can help voters understand candidates better.

“By not knowing what party a person is in, you are deprived of information that you otherwise would have in any other election,” Fleischauer said.

Shott acknowledged that voters may have to work hard to get to know candidates.

“Is the extra effort worth it? Yes, indeed it is,” Shott said.

In House committee hearings, the West Virginia Judicial Association didn’t oppose the change to nonpartisan judicial contests.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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