Davis, Justice: (See footnote 1)
The appellant herein and petitioner below, Gary Tillis (hereinafter Mr. Tillis), in his capacity as the Chairman of the Putnam County Democratic Executive Committee (hereinafter Democratic Committee), (See footnote 2) appeals from a ruling rendered October 1, 2004, by the Circuit Court of Putnam County. By the terms of that ruling, the circuit court determined that a vacancy, as contemplated by W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) (2003) (Supp. 2004), (See footnote 3) had been created in the Republican Party's nominee for the Office of Putnam County Commissioner, thereby permitting the appointment of the appellee herein and respondent below, (See footnote 4) Raymond Joseph Haynes (hereinafter Mr. Haynes), to fill such vacancy. On appeal to this Court, Mr. Tillis complains that the circuit court erred (1) by ruling that former Republican Party candidate, Cathern Addington (hereinafter Ms. Addington), had been properly appointed as a candidate for the Office of Putnam County Commissioner and (2) by then concluding that the Board of Ballot Commissioners' subsequent refusal to certify her appointment constituted a disqualification pursuant to W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) so as to create the aforementioned vacancy. Rather, Mr. Tillis asserts that a vacancy in nomination did not exist at the time Mr. Haynes was appointed, therefore making said nomination invalid. Upon a review of the parties' briefs, the record presented for appellate consideration, and the pertinent authorities, we conclude that Mr. Haynes was properly appointed to fill a vacancy in nomination. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Putnam County Circuit Court.
The secretary of state or the board of ballot commissioners, as the case may be, may refuse to certify the candidacy or remove the certification of the candidacy upon receipt of a certified copy of the voter's registration record of the candidate evidencing that the candidate was registered as a voter in a party other than the one named in the certificate of announcement during the sixty days immediately preceding the filing of the certificate: Provided, That unless a signed formal complaint of violation of this section and the certified copy of the voter's registration record of the candidate be filed with the officer receiving that candidate's certificate of announcement no later than ten days following the close of the filing period, the candidate shall not be refused certification for this reason.
Following the Board's failure to certify Ms. Addington as the Republican nominee for Putnam County Commissioner, the Republican Committee, on June 24, 2004, and pursuant to W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4), (See footnote 7) voted to name Raymond Joseph Haynes as the Republican Party's nominee to the office of Putnam County Commissioner in place of Ms. Addington. On June 28, 2004, the Republican Committee filed with the circuit clerk a new Appointment by Executive Committee to Fill a Vacancy on the General Election Ballot listing Mr. Haynes as its nominee and claiming that a vacancy had been created because the Putnam County Board of Commissioners had refused to certify Ms. Addington based upon her disqualification by reason of improper party affiliation. (See footnote 8)
Mr. Tillis then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Putnam County Circuit Court on August 23, 2004, challenging Mr. Haynes' nomination. In his petition, Mr. Tillis asserted that the Board's refusal to certify a candidate, i.e., Ms. Addington, did not constitute a vacancy as contemplated by W. Va. Code § 3-5-19. By contrast, the named respondents argued that because the Board's refusal to certify Ms. Addington's nomination was premised on a disqualification, a vacancy had therefore been created.
On September 30, 2004, the circuit court conducted a hearing, and, on October 1, 2004, the court ruled from the bench that a vacancy had been created in the Republican Party's nomination for the Office of Putnam County Commissioner when the Board rejected Ms. Addington's candidacy. Thus, the circuit court held that the nomination of Mr. Haynes was proper. On October 4, 2004, Mr. Tillis filed a petition for appeal with this Court and requested expedited review in light of the rapidly approaching November 2, 2004, general election. We granted the appeal on October 21, 2004, and ordered the case to be submitted on briefs without oral argument on October 26, 2004. (See footnote 9) Thereafter, this Court issued an order on October 26, 2004, affirming the ruling of the Putnam County Circuit Court, with a full opinion to follow in due course.
[w]hile the appellate court may examine the record in the review of election contests in order to reach an independent conclusion, it merely determines whether the conclusions of law are warranted by the findings of fact, and it will not, as a general rule, disturb findings of fact on conflicting evidence unless such findings are manifestly wrong or against the weight of the evidence.
Syl. pt. 6, Brooks v. Crum, 158 W. Va. 882, 216 S.E.2d 220 (1975). See
also Syl. pt. 2, Walker v. West Virginia Ethics Comm'n, 201 W. Va.
108, 492 S.E.2d 167 (1997) (In reviewing challenges to the findings and
conclusions of the circuit court, we apply a two-
prong deferential standard of review. We review the final order and the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard, and we review the circuit court's underlying factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard. Questions of law are subject to a de novo review.).
Furthermore, we accord plenary review to questions of law, including the interpretation of statutory provisions: Interpreting a statute or an administrative rule or regulation presents a purely legal question subject to de novo review. Syl. pt. 1, Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dep't of West Virginia, 195 W. Va. 573, 466 S.E.2d 424 (1995). Accord Syl. pt. 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W. Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995) (Where the issue on appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving an interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review.).
With these standards of review in mind, we proceed to consider the parties' arguments.
[i]f any vacancy shall occur in the party nomination of candidates for office nominated at the primary election or by appointment under the provisions of section eleven of this article, the vacancies may be filled, subject to the following requirements and limitations[.]
The statute then identifies specific requirements and limitations in filling vacancies under certain circumstances, including when a candidate (1) fails to file for office; (See footnote 13) (2) withdraws no later than the third Tuesday following the close of candidate filing; (See footnote 14) (3) is disqualified no later than eighty-four days before the general election; (See footnote 15) (4) becomes incapacitated no later than eighty-four days before the general election; (See footnote 16) (5) withdraws, because of extenuating personal circumstances, no later than eighty-four days before the general election; (See footnote 17) or dies no later than twenty-five days before the general election. (See footnote 18)
The relevant subdivision that applies to this case is § 3-5-19(a)(4), which focuses on vacancies in nomination caused by the disqualification of a candidate:
If a vacancy in nomination is caused by the disqualification of a candidate and the vacancy occurs not later than eighty-four days before the general election, a nominee may be appointed by the executive committee and certified to the proper filing officer not later than seventy-eight days before the general election. A candidate may be determined ineligible if a written request is made by an individual with information to show a candidate's ineligibility to the state election commission no later than ninety-five days before the general election explaining grounds why a candidate is not eligible to be placed on the general election ballot or not eligible to hold the office, if elected. The state election commission shall review the reasons for the request. If the commission finds the circumstances warrant the disqualification of the candidate, the commission may authorize appointment by the executive committee to fill the vacancy. Upon receipt of the authorization a nominee may be appointed by the executive committee and certified to the proper filing officer no later than seventy-eight days before the general election.
W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) (2003) (Supp. 2004) (emphasis added). In State ex rel. Harden v. Hechler, 187 W. Va. 670, 421 S.E.2d 53 (1992), we interpreted this statutory language and held:
When a vacancy in nomination occurs as a result of the disqualification of the candidate not later than eighty-four days before the general election, W. Va. Code, 3-5-19  provides that a nominee may be appointed by the executive committee of the political party for the political subdivision in which the vacancy occurs and certified to the proper filing officer no later than seventy-eight days before the general election.
Syl. pt. 2, Harden, 187 W. Va. 670, 421 S.E.2d 53. Nevertheless,
we have not examined the precise meaning of the words employed in this enactment.
Thus, before applying this provision to the facts before us, we must first
determine its meaning.
When considering the meaning of legislative language, we have held that the primary object in construing a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Syl. pt. 1, Smith v. State Workmen's Comp. Comm'r, 159 W. Va. 108, 219 S.E.2d 361 (1975). Thereafter, [o]nce the legislative intent underlying a particular statute has been ascertained, we proceed to consider the precise language thereof. State ex rel. McGraw v. Combs Servs., 206 W. Va. 512, 518, 526 S.E.2d 34, 40 (1999). In this regard, [j]udicial interpretation of a statute is warranted only if the statute is ambiguous[.] Syl. pt. 1, in part, Ohio County Comm'n v. Manchin, 171 W. Va. 552, 301 S.E.2d 183 (1983). Thus, [a] statutory provision which is clear and unambiguous and plainly expresses the legislative intent will not be interpreted by the courts but will be given full force and effect. Syl. pt. 2, State v. Epperly, 135 W. Va. 877, 65 S.E.2d 488 (1951). Accord Syl. pt. 2, Crockett v. Andrews, 153 W. Va. 714, 172 S.E.2d 384 (1970) (Where language of a statute is free from ambiguity, its plain meaning is to be accepted and applied without resort to interpretation.). Cf. Syl. pt. 1, Farley v. Buckalew, 186 W. Va. 693, 414 S.E.2d 454 (1992) (A statute that is ambiguous must be construed before it can be applied.). More specifically, [e]lection laws are statutory and where clear and unambiguous require no construction by the Court. Syl. pt. 1, State ex rel. Holt v. Davis, 156 W. Va. 269, 197 S.E.2d 100 (1972). See also Syl. pt. 2, State ex rel. Brewer v. Wilson, 151 W. Va. 113, 150 S.E.2d 592 (1966) (The power of the legislature to regulate the nomination and election of candidates for public office and to prescribe essential qualifications to be possessed by candidates in order to be eligible to be nominated or elected is plenary within constitutional limitations.), overruled on other grounds by Marra v. Zink, 163 W. Va. 400, 256 S.E.2d 581 (1979).
A review of the statutory provision at issue
herein suggests that the language employed by the Legislature in enacting W. Va.
Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) is plain and unambiguous. In subsection (a)(4),
the Legislature has clearly stated that [i]f a vacancy in nomination is
caused by the disqualification of a candidate . . . a nominee may be appointed
by the executive committee . . . . It is clear from this language that
the Legislature intended to allow a subsequent nomination to be made if a vacancy
was created due to the disqualification of a candidate. Nevertheless, in granting
this permission, the Legislature has failed to define the terms vacancy and disqualification.
Therefore, in the absence of a legislative definition of these terms, we will
defer to their plain, ordinary meaning. In the absence of any definition
of the intended meaning of words or terms used in a legislative enactment, they
will, in the interpretation of the act, be given their common, ordinary and accepted
meaning in the connection in which they are used. Syl. pt. 1, Miners
in Gen. Group v. Hix, 123 W. Va. 637, 17 S.E.2d 810 (1941), overruled
on other grounds by Lee-Norse Co. v. Rutledge, 170 W. Va. 162, 291 S.E.2d
477 (1982). Accord Syl. pt. 2, in part, State v. Scott, 36 W. Va.
704, 15 S.E. 405 (1892) ([I]t is a settled rule of construction, to construe
words which the legislature has used in such manner as will advance the intention
of the act, prevent inconvenience, and avoid conflict with settled policy.).
The first of these undefined terms, vacancy, we previously have had occasion to consider and construe in our prior case of State v. Scott, 36 W. Va. 704, 15 S.E. 405 (1892). In Scott, we were called upon to consider the meaning of the term vacancy in the context of the appointment of jury commissioners to their newly created office. Construing this word, we concluded that 'vacancy' is 'a place which is empty.' Scott, 36 W. Va. at 711, 15 S.E. at 407 (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 1209 (1st ed. 1891)). We further recognized 'vacancy' as mean[ing] 'empty' and 'void' or 'unoccupied.' Scott 36 W. Va. at 711, 15 S.E. at 408 (quoting Walsh v. Pennsylvania, 89 Pa. 419, 425 (1879)). Thus, it is apparent that a vacancy in nomination signifies that, at the time of the vacancy, the candidacy for that particular office is empty and unoccupied, i.e., there are no candidates for that particular office. According to the terms of W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a), numerous circumstances may result in such a vacancy including the disqualification of a candidate. See W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4).
We have not, however, previously considered the meaning to be accorded to the term disqualification. Absent legislative guidance in this regard, we will refer to the term's common, ordinary construction to discern the meaning of the term disqualification as it applies to vacancies in nominations. See, e.g., Syl. pt. 1, Miners in Gen. Group v. Hix, 123 W. Va. 637, 17 S.E.2d 810; Syl. pt. 2, in part, State v. Scott, 36 W. Va. at 704, 15 S.E. at 405. In this regard, disqualification has been defined to mean:
To divest or deprive of qualifications; to incapacitate; to render ineligible or unfit, as in speaking of the disqualification of a
judge by reason of his interest in the case, of a juror by reason of his holding a fixed preconceived opinion, or of a candidate for public office by reason of non-residence, lack of statutory age, previous commission of a crime, etc.
Black's Law Dictionary 472 (6th ed. 1990). Accord Ballentine's
Law Dictionary 359 (3d ed. 1969) (understanding disqualification to
signify a [w]ant of qualification, especially for a public office . .
. . It may be from want of an abstract qualification, such as a requirement
for education . . . .). Disqualification has further been
construed as something that makes one ineligible. Black's Law
Dictionary 485 (7th ed. 1999). See also I Bouvier's Law Dictionary 888
(8th ed. 1984) (defining disqualify as meaning [t]o incapacitate,
to disable, to divest or deprive of qualifications (citation omitted)).
Thus, it is evident that the term disqualification as employed by W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) signifies that the named candidate is not eligible to seek the office for which he/she is a candidate. In this regard, we previously have considered some of the facts and circumstances that might render a proposed candidate ineligible for the office which he/she seeks. Most similar to the case sub judice is our prior decision in State ex rel. Harden v. Hechler, 187 W. Va. 670, 421 S.E.2d 53 (1992), in which a candidate for state senate had not satisfied the five-year citizenship requirement prior to running in the election. This Court recognized that because the candidate had not met the five-year citizenship requirement, he was ineligible to hold the office of state senator. Id., 187 W. Va. at 673, 421 S.E.2d at 56. Throughout the opinion, we continuously referred to the candidate's ineligibility as being a disqualification. Id. This Court made it clear that the candidate's failure to satisfy the five-year citizenship requirement rendered him ineligible, therefore disqualifying him from taking office pursuant to W. Va. Code § 3-5- 19(a)(4). Id., 187 W. Va. at 674, 421 S.E.2d at 57.
We also found a candidate to be ineligible in State ex rel. Summerfield v. Maxwell, 148 W. Va. 535, 135 S.E.2d 741 (1964). That case involved a candidate who was running for the office of prosecuting attorney, but was found to be an ineligible candidate because he was not a licensed attorney at the time of the election. Id. Once again, this Court used the terms qualified and eligible interchangeably throughout the opinion, signaling that their meanings were similar, if not the same. Id. For instance, we explained:
board of ballot commissioners has not legally performed the duties
required of it . . . until it has placed upon such ballot candidates eligible to
be nominated . . . and where this Court has found that a person is
not a qualified candidate to be voted upon in such election, the board
has not legally performed its duties . . . until it has
removed his name from the ballot as directed by the Court.
148 W. Va. at 542-43, 135 S.E.2d at 747 (emphasis added). Thus, because the candidate was ineligible, he was disqualified from participating in the election.
Despite our need to refer to authorities extraneous to the express statutory language to ascertain the meaning of the words employed therein, we nonetheless find W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) to be plain and unambiguous. In this regard, the Legislature has placed no limitations upon what factor(s) may render one ineligible for candidacy so as to constitute a disqualification. Because there is no limit as to what constitutes a disqualification or what types of disqualifications may exist, it is apparent that anything making a candidate ineligible, unfit, or unqualified for the office which he/she seeks is necessarily included as a disqualification under W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4). This construction likewise is consistent with our prior cases considering a candidate's eligibility. See State ex rel. Harden v. Hechler, 187 W. Va. 670, 421 S.E.2d 53 (1992); State ex rel. Summerfield v. Maxwell, 148 W. Va. 535, 135 S.E.2d 741 (1964). Therefore, we hold that a candidate is disqualified pursuant to W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) (2003) (Repl. Vol. 2004) when any factor renders him/her ineligible, unfit, or unqualified for the office to which he/she seeks to be elected.
Applying this holding to the facts presently before us, we are of the opinion that the Board's refusal to certify Ms. Addington's nomination constituted a disqualification as contemplated by W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) and, therefore, created a vacancy in nomination. W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) specifically directs that in order to create a vacancy in nomination, the candidate must have been disqualified. According to the ruling of the Board of Ballot Commissioners, the Board unanimously agreed to REFUSE TO CERTIFY the candidacy of Cathern A. Addington to fill the vacancy in nomination of the Republican Party for the office of the Putnam County Commission based upon the certified voter registration evidencing that Ms. Addington was registered with the Putnam County Clerk as a Democrat on May 5, 2004, and also throughout the sixty (60) days immediately preceding said date.
Although the Board did not expressly use the term disqualification in
their ruling, it is obvious that Ms. Addington lacked the appropriate qualifications
to permit the Commission to refuse her certification.
Under the facts of this case, it is evident that Ms. Addington was ineligible, unfit and unqualified to run for the position. Although the reason for her disqualification was not due to non-residence, lack of statutory age, . . . previous commission of a crime (See footnote 19) or failure to satisfy other eligibility requirements such as licensure, (See footnote 20) Ms. Addington's improper party affiliation likewise constitutes a valid basis for disqualification under W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4). Had Ms. Addington been named as a candidate for a non- partisan office that was not based upon the candidate's political affiliation, a different result might be obtained. Those are not the facts before us, however. In the events leading up to the instant appeal, Ms. Addington, by accepting the Republican Committee's nomination for the office of Putnam County Commissioner and announcing her candidacy therefor, held herself out as a member of the Republican Party. It goes without saying that her actual affiliation with the Democratic Party renders her ineligible to continue her candidacy on the Republican Party's ticket. As such, the circuit court properly determined that the Board's refusal to certify Ms. Addington's candidacy due to her party status ineligibility constituted a disqualification as contemplated by W. Va. Code § 3-5-19(a)(4) and therefore created a vacancy in nomination. The circuit court also properly found that, in light of the resultant vacancy in nomination, the Republican Committee had the authority to, and properly did, appoint Mr. Haynes to fill such vacancy pursuant to the directives of W. Va. Code § 3-5- 19(a)(4). Our prior holding in State ex rel. Zagula v. Grossi, 149 W. Va. 11, 138 S.E.2d 356 (1964), also confirms the propriety of the Republican Committee's appointment of Mr. Haynes to fill the vacancy created by Ms. Addington's disqualification: If a vacancy shall occur after the primary election in the party nomination of a candidate for a county office, the duly elected county executive committee may, at a reasonable time before the general election, fill such vacancy on the official ballot to be used at the general election. Syl. pt. 1, Zagula, 149 W. Va. 11, 138 S.E.2d 356. Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court's ruling.