Justices refuse petition over Senate ballot

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 23, 2010


CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Supreme Court has voted 4-0 to refuse the petition of an independent candidate for the state's House of Delegates alleging the layout of the U.S. Senate election ballot is illegal, according to a Court spokeswoman.

Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, said the Court, Justice Thomas E. McHugh disqualified, voted to refuse the petition of Janet "J.T." Thompson.

Bundy said the petition, filed Sept. 7, was refused "without prejudice to petitioner to file a motion for leave to intervene in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County in the matter of Republican State Executive Committee of West Virginia v. Natalie Tennant."

The Court, in the vote taken during a private conference, did not rule on the merits of the complaint. Instead, justices agreed with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office that the issue needs to first be taken up by a circuit court.

That will happen Friday morning, when Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey is slated to hear a challenge of the ballot's layout by the state Republican Party.

The Republican Party filed a lawsuit late last week that said the ballot being used for the general election -- which includes the special U.S. Senate race and an option for citizens to cast a straight-party ticket -- is in error.

The GOP's 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.

Thompson, an independent candidate for the 31st District House seat currently held by Delegate Meshea Poore and a paralegal, argued that the ballots should be separate because the Senate election is considered a special election.

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.

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 have said.

Tennant has said she went with the layout as a cost-saving measure and to avoid voter confusion.

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