By Lawrence Messina
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant missed a deadline for reminding voters about a proposed amendment to the West Virginia Constitution on the November ballot, but the elections chief doesn’t believe that will prevent them from deciding the issue at hand: whether to repeal term limits for the 55 county sheriffs.
The constitution requires the printing of a proposed constitutional amendment in newspapers across the state. That’s been done, Tennant spokesman Jake Glance said Monday, but not at least three months before the general election, as called for by the constitution.
The Charleston Gazette first reported on the missed deadline Monday. But Glance cited four state Supreme Court rulings dating back to 1933 that the office believes will keep the question on the ballot and the results of the vote intact.
Those include a 1948 decision that held that the constitutional provision “is procedural and a substantial compliance therewith is sufficient to base a submission of a proposed amendment to the voters of the State.”
Another ruling, in 1965, concluded that “untimely publications did not warrant declaring the amendment unconstitutional.” That opinion also warned about the “grave importance” of public notice, as the amendment involved in that case was published in one county’s newspaper just 12 days before the election.
This year’s general election is 50 days away. The most recent decision, from late 1995, cited both of these rulings in upholding a bonding amendment approved by voters the previous year.
That 1994 election also saw voters reject the last attempt to end term limits for sheriffs. Previous efforts to end them failed in 1982 and 1986. The constitution originally limited sheriffs to a single, four-year term until voters amended it in 1973 to allow a second term.
Supporters of the latest proposal, which would remove term limits altogether, include the West Virginia Sheriffs Association. The group is holding its annual conference this week at Snowshoe Mountain resort. It is considering legal options to ensure the measure remains on the ballot, Executive Director Rudi Raynes-Kidder said Monday.
The group has been publicizing the proposal, and expects to send information about it to West Virginia households in the coming weeks, Rayne-Kidder said in an e-mail.
Glance said Tennant and the State Election Commission, of which she is a member, launched an awareness campaign this summer that includes a card with the amendment language and explains what each potential outcome would mean. Tennant’s office has posted information on its website as well, Glance said.
Tennant, a Democrat, is also on the ballot in November, running for re-election. Her GOP opponent, Delegate Brian Savilla of Putnam County, faulted her handling of the situation Monday and predicted it would end up in court.
The freshman legislator said he was aware of the three-month deadline, but did not know Tennant had missed it.
“I just assumed she would take care of it. I’m not looking for her to make mistakes,” Savilla said. He also said, “I think it’s another example of inadequate leadership in that office.”
The Secretary of State’s information page for the constitutional amendment is at http://bit.ly/RivKyl.