CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia voters will once again vote on repealing a long-standing constitutional limit on the number of terms county sheriffs can hold office during this November's general election.
It will be the fourth time in three decades voters have considered the issue. Voters resoundingly defeated the last three ballot attempts, which took place between 1982 and 1994.
The West Virginia Sheriffs Association lobbied to get the issue on placed on the ballot again this year. The Legislature overwhelmingly approved putting the issue to voters last year.
Aside from the governor and some city mayors, sheriffs are the only other elected officials in the state bound by term limits. It's a constitutional provision that dates back to the state's founding.
Sheriffs Association executive director Rudi Raynes-Kidder said it's time voters considered pulling the limit off the books.
"This law is outdated, that's all there is to it," Kidder said.
West Virginia, Indiana and New Mexico are the only three states in the country that limit sheriffs to two consecutive terms.
West Virginia sheriffs are considered "high sheriffs" because they serve as both the chief tax collector and chief law enforcement officer in their county.
The authors of the state Constitution included the term limit as a way to prevent abuse of power in what is seen as a very important and powerful county office.
Originally, the state limited sheriffs to one four-year term. To further limit power, the 1872 state constitution stated that even a sheriff's deputy could not be elected to succeed a particular sheriff.
Voters changed that section of the constitution in 1973 to allow sheriffs to serve two terms and remove the deputy provision. But sheriffs have continued to push for a complete repeal.
In 1982, 1986 and 1994, lawmakers have put the term limit repeal to voters. It was rejected soundly each time - the vote was 64 to 36 percent in 1982, 69 to 31 percent in 1986 and 66 to 34 percent in 1994.
Kidder said much has changed since the question was last put to voters.
She said sheriffs' behavior is under much more scrutiny now than in the past. Sheriffs must follow all provisions of civil service code and the county tax books are audited regularly to root out potential fraud.
"Your checks and balances are right there within the system," Kidder said. "You can't just be going around like the Sheriff of Nottingham taking from the citizens - now things like that are found out."
It still does not mean sheriffs are above reproach.
In August, U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston sentenced former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman to one year and one day in federal prison for his role in a 2010 election fraud scheme.
Mason County Sheriff David Anthony resigned in March prior to pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of brandishing and firing a weapon near a dwelling and no contest to fraudulent schemes and embezzlement charges.
While preventing potential corruption has been main argument against repealing term limits, Kidder said these recent incidents showed the justice system is now able to root out that corruption.
She said good sheriffs who serve their counties well should not be forced out by term limits because bad ones like Bowman and Anthony abused their power.