CHARLESTON – Laser focus on election integrity, customer-oriented service for businesses, and protecting our state’s most vulnerable citizens are the core strengths of the Office of the Secretary of State during the first six months of this administration.
As West Virginia’s 30th Secretary of State, I’m pleased to report that we have a great team of professionals working hard every day, each of whom have a renewed focus on the responsibilities of the office. Together, we developed a mission to insure election security, enhance business, and to preserve certain historical documents essential to our State. Our vision: “Serving One Customer, One Business & One Voter at a Time!”
With a national spotlight on election integrity, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Elections Division is going beyond the call of duty to restore confidence of our voters and the general public. Those efforts include election observers, in-person assistance, registration clean-up, and responsive investigations.
On Municipal Election Day in June, we sent observers to 100 municipalities throughout West Virginia, many of which had officials who stated, “We’ve never had anyone from the Secretary of State’s office show interest in city elections.” The presence of election observers provided confidence to voters, and yielded numerous case studies of how to better train city officials and poll workers for future elections.
To re-establish our office’s relationship with county officials all over the state, we’ve implemented a six-member Field Services team to work with our clerks as well as with our municipalities. I’ve personally visited 43 of the 55 county clerks in their counties, while our Field Team has provided in-person assistance to all 55 county clerks on a regular basis.
This cooperative approach between state and local officials has already produced dramatic results. In just six months, clerks have cancelled 64,263 outdated and improper voter files. That includes 1,601 felons who while under conviction lost their right to vote, and over 6,300 deceased individuals. Each improper registration that is removed is one less opportunity for an irregularity or impropriety in voting to occur.
But just as important as cleaning up rolls, is the work to add real, live, eligible voters to our registration lists. Again, our Elections Division along with County Clerks are doing phenomenal work. During these first six months, our Elections Division and Field Team have worked with our county clerks, political parties and public interest groups to register 20,310 new voters.
One more laser focus: voter fraud and election crime will not be tolerated in West Virginia. We’ve revised our strategy to investigate credible allegations of election law violations, and we’ve reorganized our Investigations Division. Rather than try to run investigations throughout the state with just two investigators from Charleston, we’ve implemented a team of six experienced investigators throughout the state.
These investigators are on stand-by, ready to pursue leads and complaints properly filed with our office. In addition, our investigative team is constantly analyzing information received from other states and law enforcement agencies, and turning such information into actionable leads where warranted.
Using our Field Team, the Elections Division staff, our investigators and our managers, we now provide election day oversight and monitoring. In a short period of time, we can be on-site just about anywhere in the state when or if a serious complaint is filed.
While we are always prepared to investigate and prosecute election crime, our initial focus is on prevention. Working with the County Clerks Association and the West Virginia Municipal League, we’re tailoring our election training seminars to help prevent voter fraud and election law violations. We’re listening to local elections officials to better understand their needs. Poll worker training, voter registration, voter roll maintenance and election law education are vital components to our continuing education program for our county and municipal election partners.
Russian hacking and cybersecurity have dominated the news, and even West Virginia has been suspected to have been a target. Accordingly, we are working closely with the West Virginia National Guard as they have unique capabilities and access to cybersecurity issues.
I took a leadership role at the National Association of Secretaries of State Conference in asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to sponsor SECRET Security Clearances for all Secretaries of State nationwide so that the Chief Elections Officers for each state can communicate securely with our federal cybersecurity experts. Only through solid channels of communication can each state know what the threats are, and how best to position our states to defend against attacks. I sent a letter to DHS Secretary Kelly addressing our concerns, and indications are that DHS is responding affirmatively to our requests.
Our registration cleanup effort has already garnered statewide and even national attention, and we intend to continue demonstrating commitment to providing fair, transparent and fraud-free elections. I want to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat” in West Virginia, while insuring integrity throughout the registration, voting, counting and canvassing process. Every vote counts, and eligible citizens’ votes should not be diluted with improper ballots being cast during elections.
Speaking of elections, Gov. Jim Justice has called for a special election on Saturday, Oct. 7. He is asking voters to decide on a road bond that will allocate up to $1.6 billion for road repair and construction. If you’re not already registered, the last day to register in order to vote in this special election is Monday, Sept. 18. You can register at your county clerk’s office or online at www.wvsos.com. This Special Election will cost between $2 million and $3 million.
While the Secretary of State may be best known as the state’s chief elections officer, I also serve as the state’s chief business officer. Every entity or individual who wants to do business in West Virginia must be registered with the Secretary of State’s office. All corporations and LLCs register annually with our office. As of July 1 of this year, the trade names of all sole proprietorships are now required to register with the Secretary of State.
Since I took office, we have a renewed commitment to customer service in our Business & Licensing Division. Specifically, we’re emphasizing our online registration process, we’re upgrading our phone system, and we’re improving our website to make it more user-friendly and easier to navigate. Processing business registrations, licensure, and annual reports is much quicker today than it was a year ago. The business renewal filing period ended in June, and our social media push garnered substantially more on-time renewals this year than any previous year. This effort saved numerous businesses late fees, paperwork, and hassles, while bringing in needed revenue to state coffers.
It should be noted that registrations for new businesses are also up. During our first six months, 6,843 new businesses filed to operate in West Virginia, bringing the number to 101,755.
In June, we moved our Fairmont office to Clarksburg which allows our customers to be just a short walk to the State Tax Department on Clarksburg’s Main Street. Our new full-service Clarksburg Business Hub office is located at 200 West Main Street. That office is open during regular business hours Monday through Friday. In the near future, we plan to open another Business Hub in Martinsburg. And by the way, the rent for these two new Business Hub offices will be less than the cost of just the one office the previous administration had in Fairmont.
Our Technology Division is updating our website making it easier to navigate and more user-friendly. Visitors to our website can access millions of pages of business, election and consumer information as well as government documents. One of our primary goals for the future is to go paperless with annual report filings for existing West Virginia businesses. But the most notable endeavor from our Business & Licensing Division is the establishment of a One-Stop Shop for businesses. This idea lingered for 15 years, failing to get off the ground due to bureaucratic red tape. With the support of Governor Justice and cooperation with the Tax, Labor and Work Force Offices, we’ve just signed a lease for the State’s first One-Stop Shop. It will be located on Washington Street East just a block from the Capitol, complete with ample free parking right behind the building. IT, furniture, phone lines and other administrative issues are now being coordinated between the offices, but the opening of this state-of-the-art facility to enhance business operations within West Virginia is just months away.
Finally, a little known service that the Secretary of State’s office provides is assistance to victims of domestic violence. We accept mail and process service for victims who are provided shelter and cover from domestic violence and other abusers. Victims can register with us, and have mail and other correspondence sent to our Charleston office. Once we get it, we resend it to our clients at their confidential locations.
Our Administrative Law staff assisted in a national effort to promote this private and very confidential service. At the summer conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State in June, our staff joined the effort calling on the “Federal Government to Recognize State Address Confidentiality Programs” and to abide by state restrictions on the disclosure of participants’ private information. This resolution was passed, and we hope more victims will take advantage of this service whenever needed.
As you can see, it has been a very busy six months for our office. There are so many other good things to report, but for sake of space I’ve limited my comments here to some of the highlights. I invite everyone to stop by our office in Charleston, or our Business Hubs in Clarksburg or Martinsburg. I am so very proud of our employees, our County Clerks, and I am extremely honored to be West Virginia’s Secretary of State.
If you interact with WV SOS, I hope you’ve noticed changes. Should you encounter any difficulties, please contact me or my staff. We welcome constructive criticism as it is the best means to improve government’s outreach and connections with our customers.
I love this job, I love working with the people in the office, and I love serving the people of West Virginia. It’s fun coming to work as I enjoy the challenges each new day brings. These first six months have been exhilarating for our team, and we’re still just getting started. We’ve got the foundation stones in place for many more changes, and the wheels are turning for more responsive government. I’m excited for the future!
Warner took his oath of office as West Virginia’s 30th Secretary of State on Jan. 16, 2017.