CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia Supreme Court agreed Friday to consolidate two cases that seek the same outcome - a special gubernatorial election in 2011.
The justices set a Dec. 27 deadline for all parties to respond to both cases. The deadline is the same as the one set by the court last month after the West Virginia Citizen Action Group filed the first case.
South Charleston resident Thornton Cooper filed the second case seeking both a primary and general election for governor next year. Cooper, who is representing himself, filed his petition late Thursday. It names Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, House Speaker Rick Thompson and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant as defendants.
The three were also named as defendants in the Citizen Action Group case.
Gubernatorial succession is before the court because legislative lawyers have concluded that relevant state law won't allow for an election before November 2012, when the office is already on the ballot for a full four-year term.
Cooper is asking the high court to consider two questions:
-Does the West Virginia Constitution require a special election if a vacancy in the governor's office occurs during the first three years of the term?
-Does the state's law dealing with succession violate the constitution?
Then-Gov. Joe Manchin resigned last month after winning a special election to serve the remaining two years of the late Robert C. Byrd's U.S. Senate seat. Manchin was in the second year of his second four-year term.
Tomblin, as Senate president, became acting governor.
In his petition, Cooper said he gave Tomblin until Nov. 30 to call the Legislature into special session to deal with the succession issue or to announce a schedule for an election. After the deadline passed without any action, Cooper said he filed his petition.
Cooper asked the court to set a late January candidate filing deadline and to set the primary election in March and the general election in May.
After the Citizen Action Group filing, Tomblin spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor said the office's response would be contained in its filing due later this month.
Tennant has said as secretary of state she administers and oversees elections, but does not have the authority to call an election.