State: GOP must file suit in 35th District dispute

September 2, 2014 by Dave Boucher

Local Republicans need to actually file a lawsuit they’ve threatened to really get the ball rolling in the case to replace Delegate Suzette Raines on the ballot , state elections officials determined today.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

The State Election Commission voted today to accept the notice of intent to sue from the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee and pledged to act “expeditiously” if the lawsuit is ever filed. The commission can’t “waive” the 30-day heads up required by law for any group planning to sue a state entity, said Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

“We don’t have the authorioty to do that, only the Supreme Court can do it,” Tennant said this afternoon.

Raines announced in August she would not seek re-election to her seat in the House of Delegates representing the 35th District. (She noted personal issues, but Democrats also filed legal action accusing her of breaking elections law). The Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee asked the election commission to allow them to pick a replacement for Raines on the ballot. Deciding Raines’ reasons didn’t amount to “extenuating personal circumstances” as outlined in state law the commission opted against letting the GOP pick a replacement.

The local GOP still chose Marie Sprouse-McDavid–who came in 5th out of six candidates in the GOP primary for the 35th District–as its favored candidate to replace Raines. Sprouse-McDavid filed to run as a candidate, but the Secretary of State’s office cited the recent election commission decision in rejecting to accept the candidacy.

The GOP sent the Secretary of State a notice Aug. 22 that it planned to sue. State law says anyone planning to sue the state needs to give the particular agency a 30-day notice of intent to file a lawsuit. The GOP asked the Secretary of State to “waive” that requirement, but the office doesn’t have the authority to do that, according to a Aug. 26 letter from the office’s attorneys.

“We recognize the desirability and practical necessity of reaching a swift resolution of these claims, as they impact an upcoming election that is only 70 days away,” writes Katherine A. Schultz and Jennifer S. Greenlief, attorneys with the Office of the state Attorney General.

“While our clients share your clients’ interest in expedited review, we must respect the law while remaining mindful that parties cannot confer jurisdiction on the court.”

Delegate Suzette Raines, R-Kanawha, cited the reason death of her mother and the end of a long romantic relationship as to why she cannot run for re-election. Republicans are filing legal action to replace her on the ballot.

Delegate Suzette Raines, R-Kanawha, cited the reason death of her mother and the end of a long romantic relationship as to why she cannot run for re-election. Republicans are filing legal action to replace her on the ballot.

Essentially, the lack of a lawsuit puts the election commission in a “holding pattern,” Tennant said. The commission will move to ask for a quick resolution to a case, but it can’t do so unless a case is actually filed.

All ballots need to be printed by Sept. 19, in order to get the ballots to absentee or military voters, Tennant said. Right now the applicable ballots would offer the four names of the Democrats in the 35th District, names for three Republicans and “no candidate” instead of Raines or Sprouse-McDavid.

Republicans control three of the four seats in the 35th District. Democrats were optimistic they could win at least two seats before Raines withdrew.

The general election is Nov. 4.

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