By Ron Gregory
WILLIAMSON — Confusion reigned Thursday concerning what is now an empty spot for the county commission nomination in Mingo County’s Nov. 4 general election.
But by late Thursday, it appeared there was general agreement among officials as to how the vacancy created when “Big Jim” Hatfield withdrew as the Democrat candidate can be filled.
As of Thursday, there are no candidates for the unexpired term of former commissioner David Baisden. He resigned as a part of plea agreement with federal officials who charged him in a widespread political corruption scandal. When Baisden resigned, sitting county commissioners named former school board member Mike Carter as his replacement. But, because of the timing of Baisden’s resignation, the remaining term of the appointed commissioner went on the ballot for this year’s election. Carter will serve until a replacement is elected and certified. That elected candidate would then fill out the unexpired term until 2019.
Hatfield defeated Carter for the Democrat nomination in May. But Hatfield, the incumbent county clerk, decided last week to withdraw as a candidate for the commission seat. When the state Elections Commission met earlier this week, members said Hatfield had an “absolute right” to withdraw. They decided, however, that because he did not provide what they called “extenuating personal circumstances” for withdrawing, the county Democrat Executive Committee is precluded from choosing Hatfield’s replacement on the ballot.
Since nobody ran for Republican, Libertarian or Mountain party nominations, those three parties also cannot field candidates.
That leaves potential candidates with options. First, if someone comes to the county clerk’s office and presents credentials to seek signatures as a candidate, that person can appear on the November ballot if he or she secures 68 valid signatures and pays the required filing fee. In that event, the person would either be listed as having “no party affiliation,” or could choose a party name up to five words, according to the attorney for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
“They could identify themselves as anything other than Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Mountain,” said lawyer Tim Leach.
The second avenue for getting on the ballot would be as a formal write-in candidate. Those individuals interested in running a write-in campaign would not have their names listed on the ballot but the canvassing board would be required to count the write-in votes or she receives. The write-in candidate would have to file paperwork with the clerk’s office by Sept. 16 and pay the filing fee, Leach said.
County Democrats had already planned an executive committee meeting for Aug. 5. Chairman H. Truman Chafin said he would ask for legal opinions concerning the matter.
“We have an agenda item to deal with all election-related issues,” Chafin said Thursday. “We will discuss this and arrive at some sort of conclusion.”
One name rumored as a potential candidate for the ballot opening is Phyllis White, a member of the Democrat committee. Delegate Harry Keith White, her husband, said late Thursday that Phyllis White had been “contacted by several people regarding running. It is not something she initiated.”
Delegate White said, however, “if someone went out and got the required number of signatures by 4 p.m. Friday, I do think she’d consider it. But she is not actively seeking the position.”