By BETTY IRELAND
CHARLESTON -- With the canvassing almost complete and the results just about final, it is my pleasure to look back on the May 13 primary and commend everyone connected with the election on a job well done.
We live in a day and age where the conduct of elections is under more scrutiny than at any time in history. With the harsh glare of the media spotlight and political operatives increasingly searching for the slightest error to turn into a major scandal, conducting relatively error-free elections is more challenging than ever.
Thanks to a variety of factors, our West Virginia primary election came off remarkably well, for reasons including:
* Well-trained and dedicated county clerks who take their jobs seriously.
* An excellent staff in my office that has stayed on the job and continues to do excellent work, in spite of the fact that there will be someone else sitting in this chair next year, making their futures uncertain. They are the unseen and unsung heroes and heroines of any election.
* Excellent preparation and planning, which included having many "roving technicians" and vendor and office representatives across the state.
* The fine efforts of our Fraud Unit, that moved all over the state throughout the day and night of the election, checking out rumors as well as instances of potential infractions at the polls.
* Learning from problems experienced in other states - a luxury afforded by holding our primary later in the spring.
We also had to deal with several challenges specific to this election, including:
* Power outages and flooding the day before the primary. With a great assist from Secretary Jim Spears and his staff, the Office of Emergency Management Services (a division of MAPS) helped out by contacting AEP and Allegheny Power and giving them a list of our voting precincts so they could concentrate on restoring power to those locations first. As a result, we only had one county with power problems, and only then in one precinct.
* A high turn-out.
* A national press that at times seemed to be hoping for something to go wrong.
* Roving operatives from other states who spent their time trying to stir up problems and controversy.
* Over-zealous national campaign representatives who insisted upon going into the polling places (we had them removed each time -- it is against the law to campaign in the polling place).
My mantra for this election was for West Virginia's electoral system to stay out of the spotlight, and let our election night results speak for themselves. In that, we succeeded – no issues with machines we couldn't handle, no shortage of ballots, no universally long lines, no hanging chads which cast any shadows on the electorate's collective wisdom.
What we could not do, of course, was control the picture the late night talk shows and arrogant national "news" commentators wanted to paint of West Virginia in the days after the vote. Like it or not, every state has voters with racial and sexist prejudices. I know; I've dealt with the latter my entire life.
It is sad that so many national news editors, and a few here in West Virginia, showed their own preference for stereotype over substance by focusing on a handful of our voters whose views do not represent West Virginia's kind and open-hearted people, any more than "valley girls" personify Californians or Elliott Spitzer personifies New Yorkers. Shame on them for taking the cheap shot instead of the bigger, and fairer, view.
But nothing those critics say can change how proud I am that our little band of dedicated, professional election officials pulled off a feat that has not been seen in many other states – a well-run election. Take that, Jon Stewart.
Ireland is West Virginia's Secretary of State.