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W.Va. election board rejects GOP request to fill Raines ballot vacancy

By Phil Kabler, Staff writer

Kanawha County Republicans won’t be able to replace Delegate Suzette Raines on the ballot after she withdrew from her race for re-election, the West Virginia Election Commission decided Wednesday.

Commissioners denied a request by the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee to fill the vacancy created when Raines withdrew as a candidate on Monday. The five-member panel concluded that Raines’ withdrawal did not meet the standards of extenuating circumstances under the law in order to allow the party to replace her on the November general election ballot.

Under state law, a candidate who withdraws from the ballot can be replaced only if there is compelling evidence of conditions that would prevent the candidate from serving in office if elected.

“In this case, while I sympathize with the delegate, I do not think grief and a personal break-up constitutes enough of extenuating circumstances,” said commission Chairman Robert Rupp, a history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

As a result, there will be four Democrats and three Republican candidates on the ballot in Kanawha’s four-member 35th House District. The fourth space for Republicans on the ballot will state, “No Candidate Nominated,” Tim Leach, assistant counsel to the secretary of state, told commissioners.

After more than an hour of discussion, no commission member made a motion on the GOP’s request to fill Raines’ spot on the ballot. “Having no motion, we will take no action,” Rupp said.

By law, the State Election Commission includes two Republicans (Rupp and Gary Collias), two Democrats (Vincent Cardi and Taylor Downs) and the secretary of state (Natalie Tennant, a Democrat.)

Raines, who was serving her first term in the House, submitted her official notice of withdrawal of candidacy with Tennant’s office on Monday. She cited personal issues including the death of her mother in March and the end of a long-term personal relationship.

The state Democratic Executive Committee filed a complaint in Kanawha Circuit Court to remove Raines from the ballot for failing to file required financial disclosures with the secretary of state’s office and Ethics Commission, as well as issues regarding her place of residency.

That complaint was dismissed Tuesday, a day after Raines withdrew as a candidate.

Raines did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, but several Republican officials spoke on her behalf.

Melody Potter, with the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee, urged the commission to allow the committee to replace Raines on the ballot, saying 35th District voters otherwise would be deprived of having a full choice of nominees.

“This is about people’s lives and voters’ rights,” she said.

Likewise, Kanawha County Republican Executive Committeeman Thorney Liberman said he supported Raines’ decision to withdraw, saying, “Both common decency and the law allow her to deal with her loss.”

He also argued that without a full slate of both Democratic and Republican candidates, voters in the 35th District will be deprived of fundamental rights as citizens.

However, state Democratic Party counsel Anthony Majestro argued that issues regarding Raines’ personal life appeared to surface only after Democrats filed the petition to remove her from the ballot, and months after her mother’s death and after the May primary election, in which Raines finished second among 35th District Republicans.

Majestro also cited entries from Raines’ Facebook page, showing her attending political and social events in June and July, which he said seem to contradict her assertions that she would be unable to serve if elected in November because of immense grief.

He also said Raines’ intentions to serve out the remainder of her current term also contradicts that claim.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, speaking later on Raines’ behalf, argued that serving out the remainder of the year, with the obligation of attending monthly legislative interim meetings, is much less stressful than serving in the Legislature during the 60-day regular session.

Majestro said the high standard for filling ballot vacancies was designed to keep political parties from “playing with the system” by replacing weak candidates with more viable appointees at the 11th hour.

Meanwhile, Kanawha County Republican Executive Committeewoman Stephanie Abromowitz decried what she called the politicization of the process, and called on the commission to verify that all candidates for office actually reside in their districts.

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Downs told commissioners he is a partner in a law firm with House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion. Downs said he had consulted with the state Ethics Commission, and was advised he did not have a conflict of interest in participating in the hearing.

Leach said state law does not provide for appeals of State Election Commission decisions.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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