- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - In a rebuke to state election officials, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Kanawha County Republicans can fill an empty ballot slot for a House of Delegates seat.

After oral arguments Tuesday, the court’s unanimous ruling lets Marie Sprouse-McDavid fill the slot on the ballot left when GOP Del. Suzette Raines dropped her re-election bid.

The court sharply criticized Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the state Election Commission for allowing Raines to withdraw, but then denying a GOP request to fill her ballot vacancy.

Reprinting ballots could cost at least $25,000, Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick has told the Charleston Daily Mail. Military and overseas ballots have already been printed and mailed, the court wrote.

“The practical effect of the Commission and Secretary Tennant’s abject failure to be knowledgeable of and to comply with this State’s election laws has serious consequences,” the court said in its ruling.

The court’s decision says state election law requires election commissioners to allow a replacement once they let someone withdraw from the ballot.

The decision also says officials ignored a 22-year-old state Supreme Court ruling that arose under similar circumstances.

In 1992, the Election Commission rejected a Republican request to replace a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District. The candidate said he withdrew because of personal family commitments.

The Supreme Court overturned the decision, saying law relating to ballot vacancies “should be liberally construed in order to serve the legislative policy of providing a full selection of candidates for the voters.”

Tennant spokeswoman Amber Epling said the secretary of state’s office will absorb the cost of reprinting ballots, and assured it wouldn’t cost more to taxpayers.

“The Secretary of State’s Office will work with the (State Election Commission) and the Kanawha County Clerk to get ballots reprinted quickly and notify all voters whose ballots have already gone out that a new ballot is on its way,” Epling said via email.

Sprouse-McDavid and the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee targeted Tennant, the commission and its members in the challenge.

In August, election commissioners denied Republicans’ request to fill the 35th District ballot vacancy after Raines withdrew. They said her extenuating circumstances didn’t suffice to allow a replacement candidate.

Raines said she needed time to heal after her mother’s death in March and the end of her engagement. She’s completing her term.

On Wednesday, the state Republican Party called the high court’s decision a win against a “frivolous and embarrassing election challenge.”

Before Raines withdrew, state Democrats sued her, alleging she doesn’t live where she claims and hasn’t filed or signed certain paperwork.

“This process was brought on because a Republican delegate failed to comply with the law and the Republican Party tried to cover for her,” state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said via email.

The back-and-forth comes during a heated election season, in which Republicans are pursuing their first House majority in about 85 years. Democrats hold a six-seat advantage, and all 100 seats are in play this election.

Sprouse McDavid finished fifth in the 35th District Republican primary. The district elects four delegates.


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