Editorial: Public office, felons not a suitable mix
West Virginia lawmakers have more reason to clarify the state's laws and constitution when it comes to the possibility of convicted felons holding public office. Their goal should be this: Make it crystal clear that felons can't, even after they have fulfilled any punishment.
The issue came up earlier this month when former Lincoln County Assessor Jerry Weaver, who was among several people convicted in 2005 in connection with a longtime vote-buying scheme, filed as a candidate for Lincoln County sheriff in this year's elections. Whether, as a convicted felon, he would be eligible to run was unclear. The constitution spells out that someone currently serving a felony sentence cannot vote or run for office, but the law is fuzzy regarding those who have completed their sentences.
Any thoughts that election fraud was a thing of the distant past were discarded just this week. Federal and state officials announced that Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman and Clerk Donald Whitten will plead guilty to federal charges alleging an attempt to stuff the ballot box with fraudulent absentee ballots during the 2010 Democratic primary. Indications were that the investigation into election fraud is ongoing, so perhaps others will be brought up on charges.
Bowman and Whitten have agreed to resign their offices. They also agreed to swear off future public office or political campaigning, according to the deals each signed. That's good in their cases, but in the future there should be no doubt that an official who has proven unworthy of the public's trust cannot hold public office in the state again.
That should be stated plainly in the state's laws and constitution, and it's up to the Legislature to make it happen. Some lawmakers already are working on legislation. We trust they'll succeed.
The Herald-Dispatch welcomes your comments on this article, but please be civil. Avoid profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, accusations of criminal activity, name-calling or insults to the other posters. Herald-dispatch.com does not control or monitor comments as they are posted, but if you find a comment offensive or uncivil, hover your mouse over the comment and click the X that appears in the upper right of the comment. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal Facebook page, uncheck the box below the comment.