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High court needs to act

January 17, 1997

This past December the West Virginia Supreme Court justices issued an order temporarily blocking Howard Strauss' swearing-in as a Berkeley County Commissioner until they could rule on his opponent's claim that Strauss didn't meet constitutional residency requirements. On Tuesday, when they were expected to rule, they postponed it indefinitely instead. This is unacceptable. The court should resolve this matter now.

It has now been three months since Strauss, a Republican, beat Democrat Robert Burkhart by 157 votes. Burkhart challenged the election because the West Virginia Constituion says that two commissioners cannot be "elected from" the same magisterial district.

Now it gets complicated: Strauss and Commissioner D. Wayne Dunham lived in the same district at the time of the election, but Dunham moved from the district earlier this year.

Doesn't matter, Burkhart says, because since Dunham was "elected from" that district, Strauss couldn't legally be elected from it, if both were residents there at the same time.

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Strauss says where you live when you're elected doesn't matter, as long as two commissioners don't live in the same district while they serve.

Complicating all of this is the fact that in 1994 the commissioners created a sixth magisterial district and redrew some other district boundary lines. There's some question as to whether Dunham knew, at the time of his election in November 1994, that his residence was now included in the new district.

As a practical matter, we'd say that provided all candidates acted in good faith, it makes no sense to disqualify the winner of a race because of a redistricting problem. However, allowing candidates to be elected from one district (where they might have a better chance of winning) then moving elsewhere, isn't what the authors of the constitution intended either. The high court needs to sort this one out, and quickly.

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