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Double ballots raise queries

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Secretary of State's Office apparently has decided that a person may cast one straight-ticket vote for both elections on Nov. 2 - the one for the special U.S. Senate election and the one for all the other races. 

The special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly occupied by Robert Byrd will coincide with the general election already scheduled this fall.

Although there are technically two separate elections, candidates in both will appear on the same ballot. That means one straight-ticket vote will count for both elections.

Some officials, including Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, smell trouble with that procedure.

Carper said the victor in the Senate race could win by a narrow margin. If that is the case, the loser may challenge the procedure in court.

"They could say, 'Show where in the law it says you can vote once for two different elections,' " Carper said.

Carper detailed his concerns in a letter to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant on Tuesday.

"As you are aware, but I am not sure the general public is, there is at least an argument there will be two elections held on November 2, 2010; a regular General Election, as well as a Special Election to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat," Carper wrote.

"The issue is how to address straight ticket voting.

"Should public meetings (be) held by ballot commissioners, as well as the state Elections Commission to discuss this possible problem area?" Carper's letter continues.

"This has the potential of causing a possible challenge at some point. How do you propose the counties handle this matter?"

Carper said he doesn't necessarily take issue with the procedure itself. But he said county officials weren't included in the decision-making process.

"If there were public meetings on this, then I missed them," he said.

Wood County Clerk Jamie Six seconded Carper's concerns. He said officials should make sure that the procedure is airtight now, rather than wait for it to be challenged in court after the election.

"I would rather have a discussion now rather than go through the court system the way Florida did back years ago," Six said in reference to the Bush-Gore presidential race of 2000.

"The way they plan to do it is probably right, but I sure don't want to wait until Nov. 3 and have it challenged in court."

When asked how the planned procedure should be changed, Carper said, "I don't know."

"I'm not saying this is the wrong decision," Carper said. "But as we're talking right now, they are programming the machines. What if one party announces that this is unfair? How can you have one vote for two elections?

"The time to worry about this is now. The time to discuss this is now," he added. 

State Republican Party Chairman Mike Stuart said he doesn't think the specific procedure is a problem. But he does think West Virginia should follow suit with a majority of other states in banning straight-ticket voting altogether.

"I don't think it is a huge issue," Stuart said of the two elections appearing on one ballot.

"I don't think it's fair to ask the taxpayers to print two different sets of ballots, particularly given the state of the economy."

Only 16 states - including West Virginia - allow some form of straight-ticket voting.

Stuart admitted that straight-ticket voting tends to favor the other party, mostly because registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in this state.

"It will favor the party that has the most folks registered in that party," Stuart said.

"In West Virginia where Democrats have a 2-to-1 advantage in registration, it will favor the Democrats 2 to 1."

Carper said the coinciding of the two elections is a "unique situation." He believes the matter calls for a thorough public discussion to make sure the procedure is in full compliance with the law.

A Democrat, Carper said he knows straight-ticket voting tends to benefit his party. He said his question is with the procedure itself, and whether that procedure might present the possibility of a legal challenge.

Tennant spokesman Jake Glance said Tuesday afternoon he had not yet seen Carper's letter. But he said Tennant and her staff are confident in the planned procedure.

Contact writer Billy Wolfe at billy.wolfe@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843.


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