On Tuesday, West Virginia state Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, introduced a bill allowing the secretary of state to deny candidates a ballot spot if they do not meet requirements to serve.
Barnes was reacting to former state Sen. Frank Deem, a resident of Wood County, being certified by the secretary of state to run for state Senate 3rd District in the May primary election against incumbent Sen. Donna Boley, R-3rd, a resident of Pleasants County, despite a state constitutional ban on two senators from the same county serving in the same senatorial district. Sen. David Nohe, who defeated Deem two years ago, lives in Wood County.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant defended Deem's certification because the secretary of state doesn't rule on legal or constitutional challenges, but only certifies those who file in time and pay the filing fees. That Tennant doesn't have this power is surprising. And, using that logic, someone from Timbuktu could file for office in West Virginia and his candidacy would be certified.
We are not trying to disparage Tennant. However, it is strange the secretary of state, as chief elections officer, has no power to determine if a candidate is eligible to be a candidate. If only checking if candidacy papers have been filed in time and if the filing fee has been paid would seem to make Tennant more a highly paid clerk than one of the state's constitutional officers.
This is not taking a position on whether Deem is right in his belief the law is unconstitutional by going against the one-man one-vote requirement. A court will have to determine that, if Deem challenges it, and he has said he will challenge. Yet someone in state government should have ruled based on the constitution despite the threat. If that someone is not Tennant, then who?
During a press conference with U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin late January in Lincoln County, in which Goodwin announced Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman and County Clerk Donald C. Whitten both pleaded guilty to federal election fraud, Tennant said, "I will not tolerate election law violations by anyone, regardless of party or position. ... ."
If Barnes believes a law is needed to allow the secretary of state to do her job, then we have no idea what Tennant was talking about in Lincoln County that day.
Given the limited reach of the office, instead of giving the secretary of state additional powers, maybe lawmakers should instead consider whether this elected position is even needed.