West Virginia DMV commissioner grilled over missing and incomplete reports

CHARLESTON — The commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles was on the hot seat Friday over why her office has dragged its feet in submitting required reports on its implementation of automatic voter registration.

The House Government Organization Committee heard from Commissioner Pat Reed Friday morning after the committee subpoenaed Reed earlier this week.

The division was required by statute to submit a report to the House Government Organization Committee Jan.1, 2018, with a complete list of all infrastructure it would need to implement automatic voter registration by the July 1, 2019, deadline.

“I’m responsible. I take full responsibility,” Reed told the committee. “That report, the best I could find, was not done. I have a new general counsel now, and we’ve looked every place trying to find that report. I thought I even remembered signing it. I apologize for that.”

The division also was supposed to submit a report Feb. 1 if the agency was unable to implement automatic voter registration by the July 1 deadline. Instead, the DMV sent the committee a two-sided letter.

“This? This single sheet of paper is both reports?” asked House Government Organization Committee Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral, holding up the document. “This is the two reports required by code is what you’re telling me.”

“The code said to just bring you up-to-date as to what the infrastructure had been done to complete what the code set forth for those 12 items and to take a person’s application for voter registration,” Reed said.

The Legislature passed House Bill 4013 in March 2016 to create the voter identification program. Voters can show one of 14 different types of photo and non-photo identification when voting during primary and general elections.

As a compromise for getting Democratic lawmakers to support the broad voter ID program in 2016, HB 4013 also creates the automatic voter registration program. Starting this July, state residents who obtain or renew their drivers’ license or photo I.D. card would be automatically registered to vote or have their voter registration updated unless they checkmark a box to opt out.

Under current law, a resident has to checkmark a box on the application form to opt in before the DMV is allowed to send the person’s information to the secretary of state’s office, which then sends the information to the person’s county clerk’s office. According to the DMV, more than 41,000 voters registered through the division in 2016, 48,000 in 2017 and 61,000 in 2018.

However, Reed said the DMV is unable to implement automatic voter registration by the July 1 deadline. The contract with the division’s software vendor expired in December 2016 and the agency has been operating under emergency purchasing rules.

The former contractor was not willing to expand the software to include the three additional categories the DMV needs to collect for automatic voter registration: marital and pre-marital names, telephone numbers and email addresses. The DMV will begin a contract with a new vendor starting in October, three months past the deadline.

“The county clerks, they’re also not ready either,” Reed said. “They would like to have this extension as well.”

Reed said she could get the completed reports to the committee in the next seven days, but she blamed lack of staff as to why the reports were missing.

“It’s not a problem to prepare,” Reed said. “I don’t think we were negligent. I’ve learned very quickly that the DMV is shorthanded. We operate on a shoestring as far as personnel are concerned. This probably was just an oversight.”

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