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Residents against county changing its boundaries

May 15, 2007|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Some county residents are opposed to the Morgan County Commission's desire to change the boundaries in the magisterial districts before the next election.

County resident Gary Nelson said he has asked West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland, the chief elections officer, to determine the legality of redistricting Morgan County to accommodate Commissioner Thomas Swaim, who no longer lives in his district.

Commission President Glen Stotler, whose term expires in 2008, represents district 2. Swaim moved into the same district and no one is representing district 3.

Resident Kim Wills, who is working with other Morgan County citizens against redistricting, said she contacted Jo Vaughan of the state's legislative redistricting office.

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She said she was told by Vaughan that a legal opinion from the state's election committee has to determine what district is open for the 2008 election, since Swaim has lived out of his district for more than two years.

Wills has requested the legal opinion.

According to Wills, West Virginia law states that redistricting cannot be used to accommodate an individual, but must meet population based on a census.

Wills said Morgan County was redistricted in 2001 based on the 2000 census, and the district boundaries were put into blocks according to population. The commission cannot redistrict again using the same blocks, she said.

"It's against the law," Wills said, unless there is a valid reason, and Swaim moving out of his district is not a viable reason.

At the last meeting, Stotler said the commission was not ready to make a decision on redistricting because they needed to look at the block maps to determine how to make a new division line.

Nelson said in the meeting that he filed a complaint with Secretary of State Betty Ireland's office. "You can't redistrict now," he said.

Resident John Webster said to Swaim: "You should retire so we don't go through this; I can't see how this is legal."

Stotler said, "the Secretary of State has not ruled on this."

Swaim said he thought he had a right to serve out his term, but "if the Secretary of State tells me I'm illegal, I'll resign."

In a telephone conversation last Friday, Vaughan said the Secretary of State is not the "boss, the code is." Until it is challenged, nothing is illegal, Vaughan said, and the key is finding a law firm in the jurisdiction to challenge the commission.

Wills said it would cost more than $100,000 to redistrict because geographical maps have to be drawn, new voting cards have to be issued, election books have to be redone and it would require new polling precincts.

Swaim, who represented Magisterial District 3, was elected in 2004. In 2005, he built his new house 200 yards outside his district, unknowingly putting him in Magisterial District 2, he said in the April 20, commission meeting.

Swaim said previously even though he will not run for re-election in 2010, and the county's attorney said he had not violated any law because at the time of his election in 2004, he was living in his district, "I think it will put a cloud over the next election, and it is in the best interest of Morgan County to fix it."

Further discussions will be held at Friday's Morgan County Commission meeting, Stotler said.

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