Keith Judd had federal right to run for president - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Keith Judd had federal right to run for president

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What started as a message that West Virginians do not want Barack Obama in the White House any longer has turned into a message that the public wants a closer look at election laws and ballot access.

Keith Judd, an inmate at Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution, received 41 percent of the democratic nomination in West Virginia's primary election. Judd won nearly as many votes as leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

When word spread that a felon was more popular on a West Virginia ballot than a sitting president, news stories throughout the nation pointed many judgmental fingers at the Mountain State, speculating that racism and ignorance were at the root of the vote.

But most experts who looked twice at the story pointed out that Judd, a Rastafarian Christian, was not representative of West Virginia's electorate, and neither is Obama's stance on energy.

"I think the key thing is that Obama has never done well in West Virginia in 2008," Robert Rupp, a history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. "His policies are very unpopular. I was disappointed that the vehicle was a Texas convict, I was not surprised by the extent of anti-Obama vote."

And the unflattering headlines caused most West Virginians to question where the unlikely candidate came from.

The topic of ballot power the secretary of state holds in West Virginia was brought up a few times during the past regular legislative session, because two issues affected sitting lawmakers.

Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, received a court order clearing him to serve as Commissioner of Agriculture if he is elected, despite a questionable farming background. And Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, asked repeatedly for clarification on the issue of two lawmakers from the same county in a multi-county district.

"I cannot disqualify this individual," West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said in news conference. "Anyone suggesting in passion that I should is mistaken."

Former Secretary of State Betty Ireland took to social media to vent her frustrations about the issue:

"Look, here's what you do. 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. The same thing you do when two people from the same county file to run for a state office and state law clearly says you can't have two winners from the same county. Put the burden on the person who is pushing outlandish boundaries. It's that simple," Ireland wrote on her Facebook page.

She declined to expand on those thoughts with a personal interview, but said she was embarrassed by the attention the state received, calling it a "black eye."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who served in the West Virginia Legislature and was West Virginia's secretary of state before being elected governor and then senator, was unavailable for comment on the issue.

Tennant said there are very few specific mentions in state code that would deny ballot access, but anyone who doubts eligibility requirements could challenge candidacy in court.

"The law is above passion and emotion, and I must follow the law regardless of what is popular," Tennant said. "I followed the United States Constitution, because it allows a felon to run; there is precedent set.

"We follow the law as we have always followed it. That's why I wanted to stress to everyone and to the public once again that we can't let our emotions, we can't let our passions, override the law."

Tennant said state government has checks and balances for a reason, and to suggest that one public official should decide who can and cannot be on a ballot would be an "awesome power."

"And the suggestion that I force him to sue, that would be breaking the code," Tennant said. "And that's not what open, free and accessible government is about."

But Judd is no stranger to a ballot, and felons as candidates are not new either.

Judd filed a December 2011 report with the Federal Election Commission listing individuals, all from New Hampshire, who each contributed $1,000 to his campaign. But a sampling of the phone numbers listed connect to invalid numbers or large companies with recordings, such as Dow Jones and the Los Angeles Times.

A February 2012 report to the FEC listed "NA" under every category of funds, from cash on hand to allocations by state. But back on Dec. 30, 2011, an FEC report of receipts and disbursements listed $843,291.50 as cash on hand at the beginning of the reporting period for a committee called Keith Russell Judd for President of USA 2012. The committee listed is address as a P.O. Box at a federal correctional institution in Texarkana.

The report listed pages of telephone numbers, but none from West Virginia's 304-area code. Under "Allocations by State," Judd listed $5,000 for every state, and $1,000 each for Guam and the Virgin Islands.

He also filed a lawsuit last fall because he thought he had been taken off the ballot, but it was not West Virginia's filing period, so the suit was dismissed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Just this week, the Baltimore Sun dragged out a complaint in which Judd said he tried to get on the ballot in Maryland "many times since the 1990s," and he was successful in 1996, receiving 17 votes.

In 2008, Judd had another big year. Tennant said he filed for president in West Virginia, but did not get the filing fee in on time. She said then-secretary of state Ireland attempted to assist Judd in a write-in candidacy.

Judd received 734 votes for president in 2008 in Idaho, and Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told press at the time "we were conned."

Last week, Ilene Goff with the Idaho Secretary of State's office said state law now requires 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot for president as an independent candidate, but the change was not a direct result of Judd's brief campaign.

"I don't know how many people honestly knew that he was in prison," she said. "It was just kind of said and done."

Judd mailed two $1,000 money orders and one $500 money order in the same envelope to West Virginia's Secretary of State's Office this year, along with his certificate of announcement for his campaign for president. His envelope was postmarked P.O. Box 7000, 4001 Leopard Drive, Texarkana, Texas. That address happens to be the address of a federal prison.

As for Judd's financial status, he filed paperwork with the FEC in March 2008 that included a sales invoice for "Beaumont FCC," listing five photo tickets at a cost of $5, three books of stamps, coffee, 10 legal envelopes, soap, typewriter correction fluid, five typewriter ribbons at a cost of $19.25, mouthwash, ibuprofen and vitamins. The entire receipt totaled $100.50, and the bottom of the invoice lists Judd's "available balance" as $132,792.14.

Richard Winger with the website said last week that when the Supreme Court threw out state laws on term limits back in 1995, it set the stage for loose limits on who can serve as president with no room for states to tighten the requirements.

Winger brought up three names of people who garnered votes for president from a prison cell, including Eugene Debbs, who got 900,000 votes back in 1920, and one as late as 1952 who campaigned against the Korean War.

"Your secretary of state was absolutely right," Winger said. "And West Virginia is very smart to have a filing fee, not a petition, because it costs money to verify the names on a petition, but a filing fee provides money to the state."

Back in 2002, Slate wrote about Rep. Jim Trafficant of Ohio. He was convicted of multiple felonies and told press at the time that he expected to be re-elected from his jail cell. While only Maine and Vermont allow inmates to vote, every state allows them to run for president. West Virginia law bans felons from running for statewide office.

Slate wrote that "Supreme Court precedent says states can't prohibit inmates from running, but can disenfranchise them," with the idea being that an entire population is disenfranchised by banning inmates from office.

Kay Stimson, a spokeswoman with the National Association of Secretaries of State, said there is a lot of interest across the country right now in ballot access law.

Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, serves as the chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee, and he said the Legislature has to check its progress every year on every issue.

"You can't pass a law and go away and not keep looking at it," Snyder said Thursday. "The general rule of thumb is when the courts act, the Legislature needs to look at those decisions, and if that's the way we intended in statute — because those court decisions, that's what attorneys argue, and a foundation of much of what they argue in courts is other cases.

"We do this every year in the larger cases, the judiciary committee looks at the court decisions to really bring it back to the Legislature if there seems to be some anomaly and to check if that was the intent of the statute and if we were clear enough."

Snyder said he thought the state had an "excellent process" for elections, but that the Legislature still needs to look to see if the statutes are clear enough.

"All in all, I think our election process works very well in West Virginia, and with a very professional staff in the secretary of state's office, but it is complicated," he said. "As you're working with something that's that voluminous in every detail, all the way down from county clerks to voters in the actual voting booths, there's always room for improvements, and certainly we've come a long ways."

Derek Scarboro, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said the filing period for delegates to the national convention ended May 8, and no one filed to support Judd, and Scarboro said it did not seem that Judd had filed the correct paperwork with the party.

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