I am writing to correct misinformation which The Charleston Gazette published as an editorial on Friday. I am disappointed that the editorial board of such a respected publication would publish misinformation and misstatements of the law. I have asked for a retraction of the misstatements, but have instead been only offered an opportunity to submit my "little" commentary.
The Gazette's editor has informed me that the charges made against me were based solely upon the social media postings of a private citizen. The Gazette's own reporter was in possession, before the editorial was published, of documentation which disproved those postings. The Gazette failed to extend to me the opportunity to respond before publishing.
Now, because of misstatements and inaccuracies, the confidence of the electorate has been shaken. I am taking this opportunity to try to correct the Gazette's errors.
The law is simple. The qualifications for president of the United States are set only by the U.S. Constitution. Those requirements are three:
1. Native born citizen;
2. At least age 35; and
3. Resident of United States for last 14 years.
No other qualifications are set for that office. Individual states cannot impose their own qualifications. In particular, the section of the West Virginia Constitution quoted by the Gazette applies only to "any state, county or municipal office" and not to any federal office such as president. The Gazette failed to point out that limitation when it stated a felon was ineligible for the ballot for president. National constitutional experts confirm that a felon may run for federal office. At least 20 court decisions have upheld that principle, according to an Associated Press story of the same date as the editorial.
The Gazette also relied upon the unsubstantiated social media postings of a "private citizen" as the basis for their accusations against this office. The Gazette editorial board did not attempt to contact me for a response before publishing. The Gazette's own reporter was in possession of documentation that the social media statement was inaccurate. That Gazette reporter published that information on Friday morning. Nevertheless the Gazette editorial board apparently ignored their own reporter.
Many passions have been raised by this situation. Those passions have caused otherwise intelligent individuals to suggest that I should have rejected the filing. To do so would have violated my oath to uphold the constitutions of West Virginia and the United States. Also, to do so would have overruled the previous practices of every secretary of state since 1992. In 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004, a convicted felon was a candidate for president on the West Virginia ballot. In 2008 a convicted felon would have been on the ballot but was not, only because he missed a filing deadline. Even after the felon missed the deadline in 2008, the office of secretary of state continued to assist his attempts to run for office as a write-in.
I have followed the law. I refuse to substitute my opinion of what the law should be for what the law actually is. I understand the passion and even the embarrassment that many citizens feel, but it was not within my power to break the law and deny the candidate. That is exactly the same constitutional position taken by Secretaries Hechler, Manchin, Ireland and others before them.
I regret the misleading stance taken by the Gazette. I hope that damage to the voters' confidence can be contained. I can only speculate that the Gazette editors let their passion get the better of their reasoning.
Tennant, West Virginia's secretary of state, is responding to questions raised by the Gazette after a Texas prison inmate was listed on the state Democratic ticket in the May 8 primary election.