Spotlight on Reform: West Virginia Charter Review Commissions

by David Moon // Published April 27, 2006
Spotlight on Reform: West Virginia Charter Review Commissions

Oftentimes, states empower home rule cities and counties to select their own form of government and electoral system through the charter review process. In these instances, a commission is formed to study the impact of various proposals on a jurisdictions governance, often including various electoral system proposals. These bodies are often asked to look at reforms ranging from instant runoff voting to proportional voting, and in many cases have issued favorable recommendations for these fair election methods. However, given that it is often a political challenge to convince governing bodies to implement these reforms, it is a wise idea to at least have the charter review body itself elected through a proportional voting system, so that the range of opinions and interests deliberating a jurisidiction's form of government remains representative.

West Virginia provides for such a method of fair representation on County Charter Review bodies, as it requires them to be elected through cumulative voting. This model should be pursued and emulated around the nation, but it is just one of many examples of how proportional voting systems can be implemented for narrow uses to advance voter education. See West Virginia Code below:

§8-4-2. Charter board; number of members; qualifications of members; nominations; notice; ballots and ballot labels; election of a charter board; effect of vote on question as to charter board.

The ordinance providing for submission to the qualified voters of the city of the question of whether a charter shall be framed shall make provision for voting for a charter board concurrently with the voting on the question of whether a charter shall be framed. A charter board shall consist of eleven members in a Class I or Class II city and seven members in a Class III city. Members shall be elected at large and shall receive no compensation for their services, but shall be reimbursed by the city for all reasonable and necessary expenses actually incurred in the discharge of their duties. Any individual who has been a resident and qualified voter of the city for at least two years prior to the date of election of members shall be eligible for membership on said charter board.

In the initiatory ordinance, the governing body of a Class I or Class II city may nominate five candidates, and that of a Class III city three candidates, for membership on the charter board. Other nominations, or all of the nominations if the governing body does not make any, shall be made by petition to the governing body bearing the signatures, written in their own handwriting, of not less than two hundred qualified voters of the city. Nominating petitions may be filed at any time after the adoption of the initiatory ordinance and not less than twenty days prior to the date of the election. In the event of a vacancy in the nominations which shall reduce the number of candidates below the number of members to be elected, the vacancy shall be filled by the governing body.

Notice of any election at which the question of whether a charter shall be framed shall be voted upon shall consist of the initiatory ordinance and a brief prefatory statement setting out the date and hours of the election, naming the candidates, if any, nominated by the governing body for membership on the charter board as above provided and stating how and within what time limit other nominations may be made. The governing body shall cause such notice to be published as a Class II-0 legal advertisement in compliance with the provisions of article three, chapter fifty-nine of this code, and the publication area for such publication shall be the city. The first publication shall be made not less than thirty days prior to the date of the election.

Each qualified voter entitled to vote on the question of framing a charter may cast as many votes for members of the charter board as there are members to be elected. He may cumulate all his votes for one candidate or distribute them among the several candidates as he sees fit.

The ballots, or ballot labels where voting machines are used, pertaining to the question of framing a charter shall be separate from the ballots or ballot labels for members of the charter board. The position of the names of the candidates upon the ballots or voting machines shall be interchanged, as provided in the general election laws of this state. A voter who shall vote "No" on the question may, nevertheless, vote for such candidates. The ballots or voting machine directions shall bear instructions to this effect, and also instructions which shall indicate the number of candidates for which the voter may vote (which shall be the same as the number of members to be elected), and that cumulative voting is permitted. Special ballots or ballot labels without party designation shall be used at every election held under this article even though the election is held at the same time as some other election. The ballots or ballot labels shall be prepared by or at the direction of the recorder of the city.

After such an election, the legal votes on the question shall be counted and canvassed. If a majority of the legal votes cast on the question be in the negative, the proceeding shall be at an end, and the question shall not be submitted again, without a petition of the qualified voters as provided for in subsection (b), section one of this article, for at least two years. If a majority of the legal votes cast on the question be in the affirmative, the legal votes cast for members of the charter board shall be counted and canvassed and the candidates, in the number to be chosen, who receive the highest number of votes shall be declared elected.

Other narrow uses of proportional voting systems: Cumulative voting for corporate board elections Proportional voting systems for college campus elections