PARKERSBURG - West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant told the Conference of Elections officials meeting in Washington, D.C., this week that requiring voters to provide identification would not have prevented recent election law violations.
Tennant took part in a panel discussion at the States' Voting in America 2012 conference with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Indiana University law professor Michael Pitts.
West Virginia voters are only required to show valid identification with their name and address if it is their first time casting a ballot.
Wood County Clerk Jamie Six said he believes the current requirements are adequate.
"Every voter in West Virginia is required, the first time they vote after registering, to show proof of identity. So no one can start voting without showing identification. After that, the signature we have on file is compared to the voter's signature when they come into the polls. What really helps is the fact we have smaller precincts and experienced pollworkers who often personally know the voters. As we move to super precincts and satellite polls, we have to be more diligent to make sure the signatures match up. The pollworkers always have a right to ask for proof if it doesn't match up," Six said.
"I discussed the recent investigation and convictions in Lincoln County and showed that photo ID laws would not have prevented elected officials from manipulating the election process," Tennant said.
"I am not against voter ID laws if it means every single person who wants to vote has a valid ID to present at the polls. Even if we have 99.99 percent of people with ID, that's still not enough. We cannot place unrealistic barriers or arbitrary rules that will impact a certain group of people or keep a single person from being able to cast a ballot when they are legally registered to vote," she said.
"If you register by postcard through the mail, we verify the address by sending a non-forwardable card out, but we need to verify you are who you say you are the first time you go to vote," said Elizabeth Beary, deputy clerk in the voter registration office in Wood County.
Photo identification is recommended, like a driver's license, but other forms of identification are acceptable including a utility bill, bank statement or pay stub. Beary said the office does receive a large number of voter registrations by mail.
"They are available through other agencies like the DHHR and Department of Motor Vehicles so it's a convenient way for them to register," she said.
"After the first time they don't have to show ID again, the pollworkers just compare the signatures and if there is a question, they can vote a provisional ballot," Beary said.
Provisional or challenged ballots are reviewed by the Wood County Commission while sitting as the Board of Canvass, and if a provisional ballot is overruled the vote is counted.
In neighboring Ohio, all voters are required to have proof of identity. Forms of identification that may be used include a current/valid photo identification card issued by the state or U.S. government or a military ID; an original or copy of a current utility bill; original or copy of current bank statement; original or copy of current government check; original or copy of current paycheck; original or copy of a current other government document that shows the voter's name and current address, other than a voter registration acknowledgment notification mailed by the board of elections.
The Pew Center conference featured more than a dozen secretaries of state from around the country. Representatives of Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft discussed the impact of technology on the election process and campaigning. Other topics discussed at the conference included problems that arose on election day, how changes in voter registration practices and election laws impacted the election, and, how better data collection and analysis can improve election administration.
The entire panel discussion can be viewed on the secretary of state's website at www.wvsos.com.