January 15, 1890: West Virginia Legislators Convene to Choose Governor

Jan 15, 2019

After the initial election tally in November 1888, Republican Nathan Goff Jr. had held a 106-vote lead over Democrat A. B. Fleming.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 15, 1890, West Virginia legislators convened in special session to choose the state’s new governor. The most recent gubernatorial election had been deadlocked for an incredible 14 months.

After the initial election tally in November 1888, Republican Nathan Goff Jr. had held a 106-vote lead over Democrat A. B. Fleming. But Fleming challenged the count, asserting that black voters from Virginia had crossed state lines to vote illegally in McDowell and Mercer counties. Inauguration day produced an absurd scene in which both Goff and Fleming were sworn in as governor. Meanwhile, the sitting governor, E. Willis Wilson, refused to leave office until the dispute could be resolved. The state supreme court backed Wilson, who continued to serve for the next 14 months.

In January 1890, the legislature voted along straight party lines in favor of the Democrat Fleming. One of Fleming’s accomplishments as governor was to enact a uniform statewide ballot to help ensure more consistent election returns in the future.

Demonstrating how closely the electorate was divided in 1888, three of the state’s four congressional races also were contested that year.