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In 1972, a year after the national Libertarian Party was founded, a small group of West Virginians headed by Harold Harvey of Beckley began work to promote a state Libertarian Party. The party’s basic tenet is that individuals should be free to choose how to live, with minimum government assistance or interference. Government’s role, according to Libertarians, should be to protect citizens and their property, and essentially only that.

In 1980, the Libertarian Party fielded its first candidate for statewide office when Jack K. Kelley of Parkersburg ran for governor. In 1994, after years of inactivity, the party regrouped around five Libertarians, led by John K. Brown of Hurricane. Two years later, Libertarians collected the required number of signatures to get candidates on the 1996 general election ballot. The party’s gubernatorial candidate, Wallace Johnson of Beckley, received more than one percent of the total votes cast that fall, guaranteeing automatic ballot access for the 1998 and 2000 elections. This was the first time since 1924 that a third party in West Virginia had gained official political party status.

In 1998, the first Libertarian was elected to office in West Virginia when William W. Clem ran unopposed in the Jefferson County surveyor’s race. He was reelected in 2002. Statewide in 2000, the Libertarian candidate for governor, Bob Myers of Huntington, failed to gain one percent of the votes cast in that race, and the party lost its ballot status. That meant that the Libertarians would again have to petition to get on the ballot by collecting the required number of signatures set by state law.

In the 2000 general election, out of 1,067,822 registered voters, 956 were registered as Libertarians. Registered Libertarians were recorded in 52 of the state’s 55 counties.

Simon McClure of Bridgeport ran as the Libertarian candidate for governor in 2004. The party’s candidate in 2012, David Moran of Preston County, received enough votes that the Libertarians were recognized as an official party for the 2014 and 2016 elections. Prior to this recognition, Libertarians were required to collect signatures from voters to get on the ballot.

In the 2016 gubernatorial election, Moran received 15,354 votes. His 2.51 percent share of the vote was the highest ever for a Libertarian candidate in the state. In the 2020 governor’s election, Buckhannon native Erika Kolenich received 22,527 votes (2.87 percent), again another Libertarian record.

Last Revised on March 14, 2023

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e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Libertarian Party." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 March 2023. Web. 19 April 2024.


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