Civic Activity

Almost a Third of West Virginia’s Local and State Legislators Were Elected Unopposed

Seat of Power, Main Street USA. Photo by The Hub.

Twenty-nine percent of city council seats in West Virginia’s 10 largest cities were won in uncontested races in the latest cycle of local elections between 2014 and 2016.

This is an increase from the previous election cycle (2011 – 2013), when 24 percent of races were contested by only one candidate, but a decrease from the cycle before that (2007 – 2011) when 35 percent of councilors were elected unopposed.

Information on elections filings in the 10 largest cities – Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, Morgantown, Wheeling, Weirton, Fairmont, Martinsburg, Beckley and Clarksburg – was obtained directly from the clerks or administrative staff of each city. We thank them for their cooperation.

Why does this matter?

“Why should we care about local races? Because 1.73 trillion dollars is getting allocated every year by local government- that’s more than double the annual budget of the entire U.S. military,” says Stephen Smith, Executive Director of West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and one of the organizers behind the West Virginia Candidate Training Academy.

According to the National Conference on Citizenship’s 2013 study, Civic Health and the Economy: Making the Connection, there is a strong connection between civically engaged communities and economic strength, and that being civically engaged signals desirable qualities to potential employers.

How We Crunched the Numbers

Because cities and counties hold elections in varying years, many of the election years differ, so we separated the last three city council elections of each city into three cycles. All but 3 of the 10 councils included in this analysis hold elections every four years. For the purpose of producing a digestible number, we treated all of the 10 councils as a single elected body.

We took the total number of uncontested seats in the first election cycle from all 10 councils and then looked at the total number of seats up for election that cycle and divided the two metrics.

Uncontested Races in State Elections

The number of uncontested races within the West Virginia Legislature has declined steadily since 2008, when 42 of a total 134 seats (100 House of Delegate and 34 Senate) were won by unopposed candidates. Those 42 seats accounted for 31  percent of the elected state legislature that year, none of which were met with any form of competition throughout the election process.

Percentage of uncontested races by year:

  • 2008: 31 percent
  • 2010: 25 percent
  • 2012: 25 percent
  • 2014: 9 percent

What’s Happening in West Virginia to Increase Electoral Competition?

The West Virginia Candidate Training Academy is a nonpartisan effort to increase the participation of local citizens in the decision-making that impacts them.

Led by the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and supported by a number of nonprofits organizations across the state, the goal of the candidate training academy is to ensure that decision-making bodies in West Virginia are more represented of the general population.

For example, in 2016 women made up 51 percent of West Virginia’s population, but only 15 percent of the state legislature.

People aged 18 – 34 made up 20 percent of the population, and only 5 percent of the legislature. People of color constitute 6 percent of the population, but only 3 percent of the legislature.

Who To Talk To:

West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition
Email: Executive Director Stephen Smith

Related Content:

Study – Civic Health and the Economy: Making the Connection

Op-Ed: Why West Virginians Must Get Involved in Local Decision-Making



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