West Virginia Supreme Court rules that special election must be held in 2011 to fill governorship

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January 18, 2011

By Kyle Maichle

CHARLESTON, West Virginia: The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a special election must be held as soon as possible to select a new Governor on January 18, 2011. The court's decision came more than two months after Earl Ray Tomblin was sworn in as the state's acting Governor.[1]

After Joe Manchin left the Governor's office to become a United States Senator, Attorneys representing the West Virginia Citizens Action group sued Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, House Speaker Richard Thompson, and Acting Governor Tomblin. Attorneys representing the group argued in front of the Supreme Court on January 11, 2011, that the intent of the state constitution and statutes require that any vacancy must be filled without delay. Legal counsel representing Tomblin claim that the former Senate President was correct to remain Acting Governor until 2012.[1]

Associate Justice Brent Benjamin said in the ruling that: "this language is plain and unambiguous, and indicates that when a vacancy occurs in the office of governor during the first three years of the term, a new election shall be held to fill the vacancy." The Justice also stated: "the mandatory nature, prescribed in our Constitution for a new election is demonstrated by the framers’ use of the word "shall”.[1]

Despite Tennant was named a Defendant in the case, she took a neutral stance on whether she wanted a special election to replace Manchin in 2011. The Secretary of State must have a minimum of 90 days between when a declaration is made and when the primary is scheduled to ensure to ensure proper conduct of the election. The Secretary of State's office may need 160 days to conduct the election as official canvassing and candidate filings could prolong the process. The projected cost for the special election is $6 million. No date has been set on when the election would be held.[1]

Hours after the ruling was issued, Earl Ray Tomblin issued a statement that he would follow the order of the state's highest court. Tomblin said that he would propose legislation that would have the primary in May and the special election in November of 2011.[2]

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