Reporter’s Notebook: Post-election observations

We made it through Election Day, and I have the following observations I’d like to make.

After covering the first state Supreme Court election under the nonpartisan category, it’s my humble opinion that the experiment failed completely.

I was for making judicial elections nonpartisan. I think the crafters of this legislation had good intentions for taking party labels out of judicial elections. After all, judges shouldn’t be ruling based on their political party affiliation or based one someone else’s. Judges, magistrates and justices need to be impartial and unbiased.

But speaking as a reporter, judicial races — particularly Supreme Court races — are hard enough to cover. Candidates for judicial races have to be very careful what they say. If they end up ruling on a case down the road, comments on the campaign trail can be used to force justices to recuse themselves. Members of the bar also have to abide by various rules above and beyond what us mere mortals have to.

Having an R or a D by your name should not affect how your rule, but it can give voters a vital tool to tell the difference between judicial candidates. And besides, the parties and political action committees tell you what parties these candidates belong to anyway.

During the Supreme Court campaign, the Republican State Leadership PAC ran ads supporting justices Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins. They even said they would go so far as to uphold tough sentences on criminals. The West Virginia Federation of Democratic Women put out a social media graphic showing which judicial candidates were Democrats. Kind of defeats the purpose of a nonpartisan race, right?

There are only two solutions I see. Either there needs to be legislation controlling the types of independent electioneering for judicial races, which is sure to bring out cries of speech suppression and end up in court. Or, the Legislature needs to put judicial races back to a partisan race with a primary and general election. Even with high turnout this election, a quarter of those who voted selected a Supreme Court justice for the entire state.

Another annoyance of mine is with most of this state’s county clerks. I understand elections are stressful and require a lot of work, especially the night of the election. But when it comes to election results, they have to get out of the mindset that no one outside their county cares. That’s just not true anymore.

In most states, the Secretary of State’s Office is a source for unofficial election results from counties. In West Virginia, believe it or not, county clerks don’t have to keep the Secretary of State up-to-date with election results. Hence why if you go to the Secretary of State’s website on election night, their results page usually trails other news outlets.

I can’t figure out why it’s easier for a county clerk to print out results for a stringer sitting in the courthouse than it is to upload results to a computer and make sure everyone in the state, and even the nation, has access. It’s an election integrity issue in my mind. All it will take is for someone to hack a news outlet’s website and change some numbers around and sow confusion.

Lastly, as I noted in stories leading up to the election, the turnout was great. Nearly half of the state’s registered voters cast a ballot during early voting and election day. That’s the best turnout I’ve seen since casting my first vote in 2000.

Was it a blue wave? Honestly, I think it was a blue wave and a red wave canceling each other out. I think a lot of registered Democrats did come out to vote, especially in the state’s urban areas. The Morgantown and Shepherdstown areas are growing, and they’re growing more and more blue.

I think you could see the wave in the early numbers on Amendment 1 — the new constitutional amendment awaiting the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Early on, the numbers voting against were outpacing the votes for. That’s because Monongalia County was one of the first counties with results and was the first to put up complete results.

I think as some of these urban areas grow (Charleston is an exception, as it remains the state’s largest city and has a strong Democratic core, but is losing population), they’ll grow in true blue Democratic voters. But they will mostly be islands in a state that has seen constant shrinking of registered Democrats, with most switching to unaffiliated or other minor parties.

Expect to see this fight of the urban versus the rural play out in the next legislative session.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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