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County sheriffs have a great deal of power

The framers of the West Virginia Constitution gave county sheriffs a great deal of power. They are both the chief law enforcement officers and the tax collectors for their counties.

Concerned about abuses of power, the fathers of West Virginia then limited sheriffs to one four-year term in office. As the Daily Mail's Jared Hunt reported recently, West Virginians amended their constitution in 1973 to allow sheriffs to serve two consecutive terms.

Sheriffs have asked voters three times to lift the limit altogether.

In 1982, voters rejected a constitutional amendment to that effect by a 64 percent to 34 percent margin.

In 1986, voters rejected repeal by a 69 percent to 31 percent vote.

In 1994, voters shot down repeal of the sheriff's succession measure in a 66 percent to 34 percent vote.

On Nov. 6, for the fourth time in 30 years, West Virginia sheriffs are again asking voters to let them stay in office for more than eight consecutive years.

"It's not fair," Rudi Raynes-Kidder, the executive director of the West Virginia Sheriff's Association, told Hunt. Although presidents' and governors' terms in office are limited, other officeholders may be re-elected again and again.

This is not persuasive. The limitation exists to protect the public from the corruption than can arise when powerful politicians become entrenched in office.

The argument for that protection remains strong.

The Daily Mail recommends rejection of the sheriff's succession amendment.

Although the majority of sheriffs serve honorably, there's no compelling reason to remove a provision that protects the public from abuses of power.


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