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This challenge too late

June 02, 1997

The battle over a contested seat on the Berkeley County Commission has gotten almost complicated to follow without a crib sheet. Just when we believed it was settled, a citizen group plans to challenge the election a second time. Their challenge comes too late, we believe and West Virginia's highest court should reject it.

First, some background: In the November 1996 commisssion election, Republican Howard Strauss beat Democrat Robert Burkhart by 157 votes. Burkhart challenged the election, saying that the West Virginia Constitution says two commissioners cannot be "elected from" the same district, and that Commissioner D. Wayne Dunham lived in Strauss's district at the time of the election.

Strauss argued that since Dunham had since moved out of the district, he shouldn't be denied his seat. This high court didn't buy that, and after deliberating more than six months, awarded the seat to Burkhart.

Now comes a citizens' group which says that Republican John Wright, defeated by Strauss in the primary last May, should have a chance to win the seat from Burkhart. Their argument: Citizens have been denied their voting rights because Strauss won the primary illegally, preventing Democrats from casting ballots for Wright in the general election.

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Now this proposal for a "do over" might have made carried some weight with us had it been made at the same time as Burkhart's challenge. The high court could then have ruled on both matters at the same time. But to come in now, seven months after original vote, asking for the election to be overturned again, seems a little much. This high court should dismiss this proposal quickly.

Would this be completely fair to Wright? Probably not. In the best of all possible worlds, the problem with the districts would have been discovered prior to the election. Bu to overturn the election again, so long after the vote, in the absence of any evidence of fraud, would be a great injustice to Berkeley County citizens who need to know (finally) who's reprenting them.

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