Nelson cannot vote electronically in house

Ron Gregory

January 31, 2014

CHARLESTON — A Boone County delegate will apparently not vote during the current session of the West Virginia legislature following action at the capitol on Wednesday, January 29.

After lengthy debate, the state house of delegates voted 66-29 to reject an amendment to house rules that would have effectively permitted Boone Republican Joshua Nelson to vote by electronic means while serving on active military duty. Although mostly favored by his fellow Republicans, the vote was not entirely along party lines since there are 46 GOP members of the house without Nelson being present. Five delegates did not vote at all. No Democrats voted in favor of the amendment.

Nelson, one of the rarest members of the house since his district is — and Boone County has traditionally been — heavily Democrat. pulled an upset two years ago by defeating incumbent Democrat Larry Barker. During that campaign, Nelson made no secret of the fact that he was in the military and might have to serve active duty. In fact, support for the military was part of Nelson’s campaign platform in 2012.

After missing several interim committee meetings after he began service in the house, Nelson has been absent from the current term of regular session that began in early January. He has told friends and associates he will likely remain on active duty until after the session ends in early March.

Cabell County Democrat Kevin Craig made an impassioned speech opposing any change to the rules. Craig, a retired military man himself, told his fellow members that changing the rules for voting would be a mistake. He noted that if an exception was made for Nelson, there would be “no reason for any member to come here (the house chamber) to vote.” Craig said, for example, he could stay in Huntington and vote or stand in the corridor behind the house chamber and cast his ballot.

Others made the argument that serving under military command and as a legislator created an obvious conflict. One asked what Nelson would do if his vote was urgently needed on the house floor and his commanding officer told him to do something else for the military unit.

Some, such as Minority Leader Tim Armstead of Kanawha County, postured voting to reject the amendment as a strike against the military. He said Nelson should be allowed to vote electronically. In addition, Armstead voting to let Nelson vote while physically absent would not be a precedent since the state senate allowed Kanawha Senator Erik Wells to vote for senate president in that manner a few years ago.

In the end, the arguments in favor of Nelson’s ability to vote were not convincing for the 66 who voted to reject the change. Those voting to reject the amendment included Republicans Bob Ashley, Tom Azinger, John Ellem, Paul Espinosa, David Evans, Ryan Ferns, Bill Hamilton, J.B. McCuskey, Carol Miller, John O’Neal, John Overington, Amanda Pasdon and Erikka Storch; and Democrats Josh Barker, Jason Barrett, Brent Boggs, Denise Campbell, Mike Caputo, Craig, Phil Deserio, Jeff Eldridge, Michael Ferro, Barbara Fleishauer, Ron Fragale, Nancy Guthrie, William Hartman, Mark Hunt, Richard Iaqunita, Ronnie Jones, Tim Kinsey, Tiffany Lawrence, Linda Longstreth, Dana Lynch, Tim Manchin, Mike Manypenny, Justin Marcum, Charlene Marshall, Clif Moore, Jim Morgan, Rick Moye, Brady Paxton, Don Perdue, David Perry, David Pethtel, Rupie Phillips, Linda Phillips, John Pino, Daniel Poling, Mary Poling, Meshea Poore, Doug Reynolds, Doug Skaff, Stephen Skinner, P. Smith, Isaac Sponaugle, Margaret Staggers, Dale Stephens, Randy Swartzmiller, Ted Tomblin, David Walker, Danny Wells, Harry Keith White, Larry Williams, Adam Young and Speaker Tim Miley.

Those who voted against rejecting the amendment included Republican William Anderson, Troy Andes, Armstead, Karen Arvon, Border, Jim Butler, Scott Cadle, Ray Canterbury, Roy Cooper, Daryl Cowles, Joe Ellington, Allen Evans, Larry Faircloth, Michael Folk, Cindy Frich, Marty Gearheart, Danny Hamrick, Eric Householder, Gary Howell, Larry Kump, Patrick Lane, Eric Nelson, William Romine, Ruth Rowan, John Shott, Randy Smith, Kelli Sobonya, Linda Sumner and Steve Westfall.

Not voting, in addition to Joshua Nelson, were Republicans George Ambler, Suzette Raines and RonWalters; and Democrat Tony Barill.

Nelson said by phone from his military post that he was “disgusted” by the vote. He said arguments put forward against the amendment, such as those offered by Craig, were “just erroneous.”

Nelson has filed for re-election in the 2014 election.