A federal judge has ruled the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t have to extend the deadline for independent candidates to collect signatures to get on the state’s ballot for the general election.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston on Monday denied a motion for an injunction against Gov. Jim Justice and Secretary of State Mac Warner that had been filed by West Virginia Delegate Marshall Wilson, who was working to get his name on West Virginia’s ballot for governor in 2020.
Wilson, of Berkeley County, filed a complaint in federal court on Aug. 4 using his legal name, Stephen Marshall Wilson, saying state code paired with Gov. Justice’s stay-at-home order, issued on March 23, were unconstitutional and inhibited the ability of his campaign staff to collect enough signatures to get his name on the ballot.
Now, Wilson has shifted his campaign to be a write-in candidate, according to his activity on social media. Wilson didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Gazette-Mail on Tuesday.
Johnston handed down his order the last day that county clerks have to receive candidates’ information. Tuesday was the day county clerks, as required by law, hosted drawings to determine candidates’ positioning on their local ballots.
Wilson had asked Johnston to issue an injunction to either allow him to collect signatures after the Aug. 3 deadline or to require fewer signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot.
West Virginians who don’t have a party affiliation and want to run for office are required by law to submit a certain number of valid signatures from registered voters supporting their candidacy.
Curtis Capehart and Thomas Lampman, with the Attorney General’s Office represented the governor and secretary of state in the case.
They said Wilson’s petition, filed after the deadline to submit signatures, wasn’t timely.
If the court ordered state officials to comply with Wilson’s request, Capehart and Lampman said it would create a substantial issue in getting ballots organized and printed before absentee ballots are mailed out beginning Sept. 18.
A would-be candidate is required to get a number of valid signatures that is equal to 1% of the number of people who voted in the last general election for that office.
For the case of governor, that number is 7,139 signatures, Donald “Deak” Kersey, general counsel for the Secretary of State’s Office, said in a statement filed in Wilson’s case.
According to court records, Wilson contacted the Secretary of State’s Office at least three times between March 29 and Aug. 3, the deadline for nonpartisan candidates to submit the signed petitions supporting their candidacy to the Secretary of State’s Office.
During those communications, state election officials allowed for candidates and their supporters to print off copies of the petitions and sign them and mail them to the relevant candidate as a way to garner signatures safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
State law requires the petitions to have “wet ink” signatures, so the petitions can’t be signed with an electronic signature.
Between the end of March and Aug. 3, Wilson twice asked election officials in the Secretary of State’s Office to extend the deadline to submit the signed petitions by two weeks. Officials forwarded Wilson’s request to the governor’s office, but both requests were denied.
The 2020 general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.