- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Kanawha County Republicans filed a challenge Monday with the West Virginia Supreme Court to fill an empty House of Delegates ballot slot.

The challenge, filed by Marie Sprouse-McDavid and the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee, targets Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the state Election Commission and its members.

Last month, the Election Commission denied Republicans’ request to fill a 35th District ballot vacancy left by GOP Del. Suzette Raines’ withdrawal. Sprouse-McDavid would run for the Kanawha County seat instead.

In announcing her withdrawal, Raines said she needed time to heal after her mother’s death in March and the end of her engagement. Though not seeking re-election, Raines is completing her term.

Commissioners said Raines’ extenuating circumstances didn’t suffice under election law. In West Virginia, a withdrawn candidate’s personal situation must prevent him or her from holding office before a replacement is allowed.

Without a GOP replacement candidate, Democrats have an edge in the 35th House district. Four Democrats and three Republicans will vie for the four Kanawha County seats. Write-in candidates are possible.

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.

According to the Republicans’ filing, the situation mirrors a 1992 case where 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,” Monday’s GOP filing states.

State Democratic Party spokeswoman Brittni McGuire called the Republican ballot push “nothing but a baseless political maneuver and a potential waste of taxpayer time and money.”

In a previous legal complaint, state Democrats alleged Raines doesn’t live where she claims. They said she didn’t file or sign some required paperwork. The complaint, which sought to get her name off the ballot, was dropped after she withdrew.

Monday’s filing asks for the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on the case as soon as possible. It also requests sending out new absentee ballots including Sprouse-McDavid’s name, while voiding ballots already mailed out.

Aside from Raines’ slot, Republicans have fielded candidates for every House seat except for one of two openings in District 24, which is anchored in Logan County.

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