McGraw reportedly looking into election law complaint

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 15, 2010



CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office is reportedly looking into a complaint that the Secretary of State's Office has misinterpreted state election law.

The complaint, filed on Sept. 7 by Janet "JT" Thompson, an independent candidate for the 31st District House seat currently held by Delegate Meshea Poore, alleges the layout of the U.S. Senate election ballot is illegal.

The current layout of the ballot lets voters cast one straight-ticket vote for both elections -- the special Senate election and the one for all the other races.

According to the Charleston Daily Mail, it's not clear how seriously McGraw's office is taking the complaint. Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes told the Daily Mail that the office had received a complaint and the office has an "adjudicatory role."

The Attorney General's office could not immediately be reached for additional comment.

Thompson, a paralegal, argues that the ballots should be separate because the Senate election is considered a special election.

Tennant told the Daily Mail earlier this week she went with the layout as "a cost-saving measure and to avoid voter confusion."

The Senate race is high on the ballot. The layout is designed to prevent those straight-ticket voters from forgetting to vote in the special Senate election, officials said.

Officials were concerned that two ballots -- with the Senate race separate from the regular ticket -- would result in straight-ticket voters leaving the voting booth without casting a vote in the Senate race.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant has declined to comment on the filing, citing state law that prohibits the office from acknowledging any complaint.

The complaint, filed last week in Tennant's office, comes as the state Republican Party plans to file a separate lawsuit also to challenge the layout of the ballot.

If either challenge is successful, some officials say the state could end up spending at least an extra half million dollars to reprint the ballots and reprogram state voting machines.

This isn't the first time McGraw and Tennant have clashed over election law.

Shortly after the death of longtime U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd in June, Tennant said the state law didn't provide for an election until 2012. McGraw, meanwhile, said state law and the U.S. Constitution allowed Gov. Joe Manchin to call an election to fill the seat this year.

In the end, McGraw's opinion superseded Tennant's, and because of the dispute the Legislature held a special session to come up with a specific procedure for filling the senator's vacant seat.

Carte Goodwin, Manchin's former general counsel and Charleston lawyer, was appointed to Byrd's seat. He will hold the seat until November.

Manchin, a Democrat, and Morgantown businessman John Raese, a Republican, will face off for the Senate seat in the Nov. 2 election.

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