CHARLESTON — West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is calling the lawsuit filed by the state’s Republican State Executive Committee “frivolous” and “wasteful.”
The lawsuit, she said in a statement, is one that also will disenfranchise thousands of overseas military voters.
“This is a politically motivated action that calls for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary expense. It could create historic voter and election official confusion and disenfranchise the overseas military personnel who are right now defending our right to vote,” she said.
The GOP petitioned Kanawha Circuit Court on Friday.
The Republicans’ filing argues the party would suffer “irreparable harm” if voters are allowed to vote a “straight ticket” in both the general election and U.S. Senate races. That option allows voters to select candidates from the same party by making a single mark on the ballot. Democrats outnumber Republicans in West Virginia by nearly 2-to-1.
However, the secretary of state argues that per capita, West Virginia has one of the highest rates of military service in the country.
Tennant, a Democrat, said it’s a shame that the Republican Party wants to deny those men and women the right to vote.
“For the past several days, I have been trying to understand why the Republican Chairman is taking this road especially since the Republican candidate for U.S. Senator is the first name voters will see on the ballot,” she said.
Tennant noted that two weeks ago, in an article published in the Charleston Daily Mail, GOP Chairman Mike Stuart said he didn’t think holding the special election and the regular general election on the same ballot was “a huge issue.”
According to the article, Stuart said, “I don’t think it’s fair to ask the taxpayers to print two different sets of ballots, particularly given the state of the economy.”
Tennant said “common sense” needs to be used when conducting elections — not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more on printing separate ballots.
The secretary of state also wants to know why Stuart has changed his mind on the issue.
“It is not a luxury of mine to bow to the prevailing political winds,” she said. “I based my decision on West Virginia election code and precedent and case law. I am, and always have been, confident in the decision I made to put the special election and the general election on the same ballot.”
Stuart responded on Friday by telling the Charleston Gazette that some Democrats have also questioned going with a single ballot. He said Tennant could have avoided controversy by printing separate ones.
Tennant noted that in the past there have been separate elections occurring at the same time as another election and they’ve been on the same ballot with straight-party voting, be it municipal elections or unexpired terms.
In fact, on this ballot, she points out, there will be special elections for the unexpired terms of the state Supreme Court and the 10th Senatorial District.
“The voters of West Virginia can be confident in this ballot and should not be discouraged by all of this political wrangling on the part of Republicans. I encourage registered voters to go to the polls on Nov. 2 and vote for the candidate they feel would best represent them,” Tennant said.
House of Delegates candidate Janet “J.T.” Thompson filed her own challenge Thursday with the state Supreme Court. Like the GOP, Thompson also is demanding a separate ballot for the special U.S. Senate race.
The Court is slated to review her petition Thursday, and has given Tennant’s office until Wednesday to respond.