CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A law limiting sheriffs to only two consecutive terms in office will remain on the books after West Virginia voters rejected lifting the term limits for the fourth time.
The margin by which the measure was defeated was smaller than in years past. That was encouraging to a disappointed Rudi Raynes Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs Association.
With 95 percent of the state's 1,842 precincts reporting, 53 percent of voters were against repealing the amendment while 47 percent voted to repeal it, according to results posted on MetroNews' website.
"This was the best it's ever done and the closest it's ever been," Kidder said Tuesday night. "It made a very good showing and it shows, I think, that people do trust their sheriffs and that they have good approval ratings across the state." This was the fourth time in 30 years that the issue was on the ballot. It was resoundingly defeated on the last three attempts, all of which took place between 1982 and 1994.
Voters defeated the measure in 1982, 1986, and 1994. The vote was 64 to 36 percent in 1982, 69 to 31 percent in 1986 and 66 to 34 percent in 1994.
The Sheriff's Association lobbied hard to get the issue on the ballot again this year, Kidder said. The Legislature approved the matter, turning the matter over to voters.
Kidder called the fact that sheriffs have limits to their terms "outdated" and said it was time to pull it from the books. She argued sheriffs who have done a good job should have the option to continue running for the office.
She expected the repeal would do well in counties where residents were pleased with their sheriffs. That wasn't the case everywhere.
Kidder pointed to Kanawha County, where voters seemed pleased with Sheriff Mike Rutherford, who is finishing his second term and being succeeded by his younger brother John Rutherford. But 23,520 Kanawha voters favored of the repeal, while 25,467 voters did not. In Wood County, 19,931 votes were cast against repealing the amendment and 12,410 votes were cast in favor of a repeal.
"Wood County was very surprising because (Sheriff Jeff) Sandy got beat there by sheriff from the past who is coming in on his fourth term," Kidder said. Wood County residents voted to unseat Sheriff Jeff Sandy, Democrat, in favor of Ken Merritt, a Republican, who will be starting his fourth term as Wood County Sheriff in January. Merritt served three terms from 1993 to 1997, 1997 to 2001 and 2005 to 2009.
Also surprising she said was Mason County where 4,582 votes were cast for the repeal and 4,466 votes were cast against it. Mason County voters saw their sheriff David Anthony resign from office amid a fraud and embezzlement scandal earlier this year.
"That was very surprising for us," Kidder said of the Mason County results.
West Virginia, Indiana and New Mexico are the only states that limit sheriffs' terms.