I am writing to correct misinformation which has been circulated in print and social media relating to the appearance of a convicted felon as a candidate for United States president on the recent Democratic primary ballot. I am concerned that because of misstatements and inaccuracies, the confidence of the electorate may have been shaken.
The law is simple. The qualifications for president of the United States are set only by the U.S. Constitution. Those requirements are three:
1. Native born citizen;
2. At least age 35; and
3. Resident of United States for last 14 years.
No other qualifications are set for that office. Individual states cannot impose their own qualifications. Some publications have quoted, in part, a section of the West Virginia Constitution as support for the interpretation that a felon cannot be a candidate. However, the section applies only to "any state, county or municipal office" and does not apply to any federal office such as president. National constitutional experts confirm that a felon may run for federal office. At least 20 court decisions have upheld that principal; according to an Associated Press story of May 11, 2012.
Many passions have been raised by this situation. Those passions have caused otherwise intelligent individuals to suggest that I should have rejected the filing. To do so would have violated my oath to uphold the constitutions of West Virginia and the United States. Also, to do so would have overruled the previous practices of every secretary of state since 1992. In 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 a convicted felon was a candidate for president on the West Virginia ballot. In 2008, a convicted felon would have been on the ballot, but was not only because he missed a filing deadline. Even after the felon missed the deadline in 2008, the office of secretary of state continued to assist his attempts to run for office as a write-in.
I have followed the law. You can be confident that I will continue to do so. Sometimes following the law leads to an unpopular result. But, I refuse to substitute my opinion of what the law should be for what the law actually is.
I understand the passion and even the embarrassment that many citizens feel, but it was not within my power to break the law and deny the candidate access to the ballot. That is exactly the same constitutional position taken by Secretaries Hechler, Manchin and Ireland, and others before them.
I regret the misinformation which has been circulated. I hope that damage to the voters' confidence can be contained. I can only speculate that persons have let their passion get the better of their reasoning.
Natalie E. Tennant
West Virginia Secretary of State