Felon candidate’s ballot success prompts political tussle
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Federal inmate Keith Judd's standout performance against President Barack Obama in this week's Democratic primary became a new political football on Thursday.
Several Republicans, including former Secretary of State Betty Ireland, criticized the current Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the Democratic Party for letting Judd onto the ballot without contest.
Judd, an inmate at a federal prison in east Texas, is nearing the end of a 17-and-a-half-year sentence for threatening to kill a former girlfriend. Yet, because of protest votes against Obama in West Virginia, Judd was able to win more than 40 percent of the votes in the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Ireland posted on Facebook and Twitter that Tennant, the state's chief elections officer, had erred by letting Judd onto the ballot.
"Look, here's what you do," Ireland said. "When a convicted felon files to run for president of the U.S., you know by statute he cannot serve. So, you deny his petition and make him sue you to get on the ballot."
But documents provided by Tennant's office suggest that when Ireland was secretary, her office was on track to allow Judd onto the ballot in 2008.
Ultimately, Judd was not allowed on the ballot, but not because he was a felon or in prison. Instead, Ireland's office didn't let him on the ballot because he failed to send a check to cover the $2,500 filing fee on time.
Tennant said Ireland had even aided Judd's electoral efforts by sending him a form that would allow him to become an official write-in candidate.
After Ireland's elections manager Jason Williams notified Judd that his name would not be on the ballot in 2008, he sent Judd a form that Judd could have used to become an official write-in candidate. Official write-in candidates' names don't appear on the ballot, but their names are posted at polling places on Election Day.
Tennant spokesman Jake Glance said Ireland's office "never once mentioned" in the correspondence with Judd that he couldn't run because he was a felon.
"You'd think that if that was the reason, she would have a duty to tell him that was the reason, yet that was never mentioned," Glance said.
Tennant also took exception to Ireland's criticism, as well as criticism Thursday from the state Federation of Young Republicans, a small but increasingly vocal GOP group that sends out attacks of Democrats.
"To me, this seems like people want to play political games, people want to play personal games with this: I don't have that luxury, I follow the law," Tennant said.
Tennant wondered why Ireland said what she said Thursday given how the office handled Judd's case in 2008.
"If Betty Ireland felt that way, why didn't she take that stand in '08 instead of assisting and helping him to get on the ballot?" Tennant said.
Ireland did not respond to a message left on her cellphone.
The Young Republicans email to the media was titled, "Tennant Wouldn't Keep Judd From Ballot, Embarassing W.Va." The email misspelled "embarrassing."
GOP Chairman Mike Stuart said the Democratic Party itself should have contested Judd's candidacy.
Before he was on the ballot, Judd sued to get on the ballot in 2011.
Tennant's office said the suit was premature. The suit also noted that the U.S. Constitution doesn't prohibit a felon from running for president.
In Tennant's response to Judd's 2011 lawsuit, Tennant lawyers noted the exchange Judd had with Ireland's office in 2008.
"In other litigation, (Judd) has claimed that he was denied placement on the ballot in West Virginia in 2008 because of his incarceration, but the actual reason was that his filing fee arrived after the statutory filing period had expired," the office's response said.
Republicans haven't been shy about questioning Tennant's office.
In 2010 began a short but bitter legal battle that threatened to derail that fall's election. The party had challenged the layout of the ballot for the upcoming special U.S. Senate race.
A circuit court sided with Tennant and the GOP chose not to appeal the decision.
Still, Boone County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Ann Zickefoose wondered why her party or the secretary of state hadn't done more to avoid the embarrassment of having Judd on the ballot.
"If they couldn't get him off the ballot, then he should have been exposed for what he was," she said.
Boone was one of seven counties Obama won in the 2008 general election. On Tuesday, it was one of nine he lost to Judd.
The media paid little attention to Judd before Tuesday's primary and it was not widely known that he was a felon.
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio defended what happened before the election and said he disagreed with Ireland's position that someone should have to sue to get on the ballot.
"While it's easy to look back and say 'What if?' we have to remember that thank goodness we live in a country where we have rights and one of them is to seek election. I would love to see our legislators look closely to see if they can set laws that would allow a vehicle possibly where someone could protest or appeal to the elections commission, which is a bipartisan commission, when they would have concerns about someone being on the ballot that couldn't serve if they were elected," Puccio said.
"However, it's my understanding, that the way the laws are written, our secretary of state complied with the law."