MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Keith Wilson Jr. is one of West Virginia's youngest sheriffs at 39, but even if he wins a second term on Election Day, his career with the Wirt County department will end in four years.
Term limits the West Virginia Constitution would prevent him from trying again to keep the job he loves, at age 43.
Wilson, a Republican running against Democrat and former sheriff Andy Cheuvront, is part of a movement to change that. He's posted signs across his tiny county of 6,000, urging people to vote "yes" on a constitutional amendment that would give voters the sole authority to decide whether a sheriff can serve more than two consecutive terms.
"If I'm not doing my job, the community is going to replace me," Wilson said. "But if the sheriff they want in is term-limited, then they don't get who they want."
His opponent was elected in 2000 and again in 2004, but was then prevented from running again in 2008, when Wilson claimed the seat. Cheuvront is now trying to take it back.
The term-limits issue has gotten little attention, but the West Virginia Sheriffs Association says it's sent out thousands of mailings, asking voters to repeal term limits for the state's 55 sheriffs. The constitution forces them to sit out one term after serving two consecutive four-year terms.
Only two other states, Indiana and New Mexico, have similar restrictions.
A "yes" vote would support removing that language.
"If you're an assessor, a prosecutor or any county officeholder, you at least have the option to put your name on the ballot for re-election. Sheriffs don't have that opportunity," said the association's executive director, Rudi Raynes-Kidder. "We want to give the power back to the voters and basically empower them to make these decisions for themselves."
In West Virginia, only the governor is subject to a similar term limit.
"We're in great company," Raynes-Kidder said. "We just don't get the same benefits."
Sheriffs, for example, don't serve long enough to accrue retirement benefits. Nor do they serve long enough to work their way up the ladder at the National Sheriffs' Association, where 12 years' experience is required to serve on the board of directors.
State Sen. Bill Laird, a Democrat and former Fayette County sheriff who sponsored the amendment, calls term limits a disincentive for young, qualified law enforcement officers who might want the job. Most people who run are older, nearing the end of their careers or already retired.
"Generally, not too many younger people do it," he says, "because there's no real future in it."
Voters amended the constitution to allow sheriffs a second term in 1973 but have rejected at least three attempts to allow additional terms -- in 1982, 1986 and 1994.