CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday let stand a lower court’s disqualification of a state Senate candidate over a residency requirement.
Andrea Garrett Kiessling filed to run in next Tuesday’s Republican primary in a Senate district spanning five counties. On Wednesday, a Kanawha County judge ruled in a voter’s challenge that Kiessling could not seek office because she has not been a state resident for the required five years prior to the election as required by the constitution.
After attorneys for Kiessling appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court on Thursday, the justices released a brief order in which they declined a motion to temporarily stay the circuit court’s order and refused a motion “as moot” for expedited consideration.
Kiessling was promoted by West Virginia Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, who lives in another Senate district, as “the only true conservative” in the 8th District race. Three other Republican candidates are running in the Senate district primary: Former Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, ex-Democratic Delegate Mark Hunt and Mark Mitchem. Democrat Sen. Richard Lindsay is running unopposed.
Republican Senate President Craig Blair issued a statement earlier Friday calling the circuit court decision “insulting to the very institution of free and fair elections. A judge has no right to unilaterally decide whether a candidate is fit for office. That is a job for the voters and the voters alone.”
Blair went on to say that Circuit Judge Duke Bloom’s actions “will not be forgotten.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin called Blair’s statement “as outrageous as it is dangerous. No person, party, or brand of government holds a monopoly on power.
“The courts are doing their job, hearing the evidence, applying the law, and making the best decision it can — even when presented with a difficult issue and in a hyper-partisan political environment. There is no place for intimidation and bullying of one branch by another.”
Among their arguments for a temporary stay, Kiessling’s attorneys argued that the lower court order will almost certainly result “in the disenfranchisement of voters” who already cast ballots.
Early voting for the primary started April 27 and runs through Saturday. Secretary of State spokesman Mike Queen said hundreds of people have already voted in the district.
The state Election Commission on Thursday ordered Secretary of State Mac Warner to work with officials in Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Putnam and Roane counties to refrain from tallying votes cast for Kiessling. In addition, clerks in those counties were directed to immediately post signs on polling place doors stating that Kiessling is not an eligible candidate and that votes cast for her will not be counted.