POINT PLEASANT — It’s been a roller coaster of a week for some independent candidates across the state, including right here in Mason County.
An independent candidate running for Mason County Assessor, who was on the ballot and then abruptly removed, is back on it again after a ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers in Huntington on Thursday.
Mark “Sparky” Villars (I-Point Pleasant), along with several other independent candidates across the state, will appear on the November ballot. The ruling by Judge Chambers overturns one issued by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals which removed Villars and others like him, from the ballot. The ruling stemmed from the supreme court’s interpretation of the Jan. 30 certificate of announcement deadline which was a deadline for a candidate to announce their candidacy in order to appear on the November ballot.
Villars said he was notified of the decision to remove him from the ballot on Monday and retained legal counsel shortly after. Villars said he was advised other candidates who were affected across the state had already filed an appeal of the decision so he awaited the outcome of that case.
“I was devastated,” Villars said of the initial decision to remove him from the ballot after a summer of campaigning. He explained, he followed the instructions from the secretary of state’s office to become an official candidate.
Like Villars, those registering to run as an independent candidate must turn in a petition signed by registered voters, the percentage of which is determined by the voter turnout in a previous election. Mason County Clerk Diana Cromley said Villars needed to turn in 97 signatures to be placed on the ballot and he turned in a little over 200 to be certified.
As of Thursday morning, Villars’ name, and others like him, were already on the ballot, though county clerks would’ve been forced to block out their names, prior to mailing out absentee ballots, not to mention deal with any additional costs to reprint new ballots and reprogram those ballots.
Cromley’s office was to begin mailing out absentee ballots no later than Friday, Sept. 23 and she and her staff would’ve had to modify those ballots which contained Villars’ name, though that didn’t end up happening. Like many county clerks, Cromley’s office was in limbo, waiting to hear Judge Chambers’ decision and still lawfully make the deadline to begin mailing absentee ballots.
On Thursday, following the ruling that reinstated Villars and others like him, Cromley received an email from Patricia L. Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties. The email originated from the office of Natalie Tennant, West Virginia Secretary of State and stated the federal court ruled that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals’ interpretation that the Jan. 30 certificate of announcement deadline must be overturned and six statewide, federal and legislative candidates restored to the ballot. Also, the court ordered Tennant to instruct county clerks to restore any local candidates who had been removed by county action over the Jan. 30 issue – this included Villars in Mason County.
“Our Prosecuting Attorney Craig Tatterson and Ballot Commissioners Tanya Handley, Cary Supple and myself, were pleased the ballots in Mason County are correct as proofed and did not cost the taxpayers additional funds to reprint and reprogram them,” Cromley said on Friday. “Additionally, we find the court ruling confirms our intent to allow everyone who follows the process to be placed on the ballot to remain on the ballot. Today (Friday) is the deadline to begin mailing absentee ballots so my staff worked diligently to ensure they were placed in the mail by the deadline. We will continue to take applications for absentee ballots up and through Nov. 2. Early voting will be held Oct. 26 to Nov. 5. General Election Day is Nov. 8.”
As for Villars, he said he was “ecstatic” when he heard about the ruling confirming he had followed the correct process to run as a candidate and his candidacy was restored.
“I have met many new people that have offered their support in my campaign,” Villars told the Point Pleasant Register on Friday. “I am so glad to be back on the ballot so people still have a choice for their assessor.”
Villars will face Incumbent Ron Hickman (D-Point Pleasant) on Nov. 8.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.