Voter registration bill passes Legislature

CHARLESTON – Wood County election officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude about changes in voter registration record maintenance and related procedures passed by the Legislature.

Wood County Clerk Jamie Six said he was unaware of the proposals the secretary of state submitted to the Legislature.

“They were not presented to the county clerks; we don’t get the proposed legislation the secretary of state has introduced,” Six said.

Six said he was wasn’t sure how much the 44-page voter registration bill, Senate Bill 535, will help local clerks’ offices.

According to the legislation, the bill was to update and clarify the process for the maintenance of voter registration lists and related records, to make technical corrections and delete obsolete references related to that process; to update and clarify the persons entitled to vote, to clarify when a person under the age of 18 may vote in a primary election, to update the processes and responsibilities for statewide voter registration and clarify county and state roles in the voter registration process.

The stated purpose was also to update the processes of maintaining voter registration records; clarify county roles in maintaining voter registration files for municipal elections; update processes for maintenance of records in the statewide voter registration database; update processes for cancellation of deceased or ineligible voters’ registrations; clarify county and state roles in the systematic purging program for removal of ineligible voters from active voter registration records, and to clarify custody of paper and electronic voter registration records.

“I haven’t discussed it with the secretary of state. I know in some counties that don’t have a hospital, and if someone dies elsewhere, the death certificate is filed where they die, not in their place of residency and that can affect voter registration rolls,” Six said.

Six noted even though Wood County has a hospital, people still die at Marietta Memorial in Ohio or somewhere else in West Virginia, and that creates the same problem.

“We subscribe to the newspaper and purge people’s names from the voter registration rolls when we see their obituaries. We have the legal right do so. But if someone dies out of the county and their obituary doesn’t appear in the local newspaper, we don’t have a way to find that; that’s always been a problem,” the clerk said.

Six said the secretary of state was already supposed to be working with vital statistics and doing a comparison for all the counties. “I don’t know this bill was needed for that, I thought they already had that ability,” Six said. “That was one of the reasons for the statewide voter registration to compare vital stats to their files and I think they already had that authority. I’m not clear on the intent, what they are trying to accomplish. There are a lot of strike throughs in the bill and I’m still reviewing and seeing how it’s going to impact the local clerks,” Six said.

Six said the legislation had not been discussed at the statewide clerks association meetings.

Out of 17 bills supported by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s Office, 15 now await Gov. Tomblin’s signature to become law.

Senate Bill 535 relates to voter registration lists and how they are maintained. According to the secretary of state’s office, the legislation gives county clerks better access to information from the Vital Registration Office and from other states, and ultimately means they will be able to better maintain accurate voter registration rolls. It provides more tools for counties to use to remove from the rolls the people who have moved out of the county or who have passed away.

“I have been an advocate of this for years, and this is a proactive way for us to address the problem of outdated voter registration lists head on,” Tennant said. “I am disappointed that there are those who would vote against this measure. It shows they are not serious about maintaining the high integrity of elections and want to make baseless allegations of voter impersonation. Senate Bill 535 does more for the integrity of the election process than any photo identification legislation could. They wanted to focus on photo identification laws that wouldn’t have done anything but make it more difficult for already registered voters and instead they missed an opportunity here to truly be a part of the solution to outdated voter registration lists,” Tennant said.