As U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin considers a 2016 return bid for governor, Republicans hope to block West Virginia’s most prominent Democrat from handpicking his Senate successor for two years. Should he reclaim his old job, Manchin will have served enough of his Senate term that the governor — potentially him in 2017 — could name the next senator through 2018. The appointment would guarantee that the Democratic Party holds a crucial seat for at least another two years. After a bruising 2014 election, Manchin is in the Senate minority for the first time in his short tenure. In his state, he’s the last Democrat standing in Congress. Big Republican gains also shook up the statehouse. With majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in more than eight decades, Republicans have the numbers to stymie Manchin’s ability to name a potential replacement.
West Virginia is preparing for debate on its own voter identification bill this year, amid a changing political climate in the state and circumstances that differ from election fights in Pennsylvania. On Nov. 6, Republican lawmakers in the state capital saw the biggest surge in their ranks since the 1920s, with the addition of 11 new members to the state House and the ouster of the incumbent Democratic attorney general. Party leaders are hoping that momentum, when mixed with the notorious history of political mischief in the state, could lead to adopting a voter ID bill similar to one approved by the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature last year.
Armed with their largest share of the House of Delegates in decades, West Virginia Republicans plan to resume their push to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, adding the state to a growing group that expect to debate the topic this year. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead said the GOP proposal would mandate a photo ID while helping those who don’t have such identification to obtain one. The bill is expected during the 2013 regular session of the Legislature, which begins Feb. 13. “Requiring identification when voting is a simple step that we can take to make our elections fairer and to ensure that the outcome of our elections actually reflects the will of our citizens,” said Armstead, a Kanawha County lawyer. “People are required to show identification to cash a check, to enter many sporting and other events, and to open bank accounts.”