CHARLESTON – There is much concern over election integrity as we approach the 2020 election. However, West Virginians can rest assured that as our state's top election official, I have been working diligently with county clerks and other officials throughout the state to secure our elections, and to ensure an accurate vote count on election night.
While there is no evidence that a single vote was changed in 2016 or 2018 – nor was any person kept from voting due to a database intrusion – the attacks on our democratic process sent a shot across our bow that U.S. election security needed to be hardened. Step one in this effort is cleaning our voter registration lists.
Prior to my taking office in 2017, county clerks had a herculean task to monitor deceased voters from obituary pages and other public notices. Without help from state agencies, far too many names of deceased voters were missed with no fault of the county clerk. In such cases, a former West Virginia resident could pass away in Florida and their obituary never appear back home.
However, there is good news to share, as we've undertaken massive changes to end the Mountain State’s poor election stigma. During the 2018 election cycle, West Virginia counties cleaned the rolls of outdated and ineligible registrations by about 40 percent more than during the previous midterm election cycle using new uniform, non-discriminatory list maintenance processes.
The laws for voter registration list maintenance have been on the books for years, so you might ask why we are just now making such great strides in maintaining an accurate database. The answer is simple: communication and cooperation between the state and its counties have never been better, and we have the data to prove it.
Through communications with county clerks after taking office in 2017, my administration quickly identified multiple factors which resulted in the previously bloated voter rolls. Local registration offices were limited to using their own resources to identify when a voter was no longer living in their jurisdiction or otherwise ineligible. In fact, prior to this, the last time the state offered information to the counties from the Division of Corrections, to identify felons under conviction, and from West Virginia Vital Statistics, to confirm deceased registrants were not registered to vote, was in 2008. The last time the Social Security Administration’s “Death Master File” was used to identify deceased registrants was in 2010.
Fortunately, those days are long gone. West Virginia is now a fully willing partner with local registration offices and we are committed to ensuring accurate and up-to-date voter registration records.
The new system uses data-driven and state-of-the-art technology to ensure eligible voters are both properly registered and listed in the correct location. Files of ineligible voters are provided regularly for county review. In fact, beginning in 2020, and for the first time in West Virginia’s history, my office will receive data from another state agency to regularly compare a list of non-citizens to the active voter registration database to identify potential ineligible registrants, and will provide that information to the counties for individual review.
The results of our combined efforts have been refreshing to see take hold. During the 2018 election cycle, more than 115,000 outdated, duplicated, deceased or convicted felon voter registrations were properly removed. Efforts heading into the 2020 presidential election have already resulted in removing an additional 65,000 outdated or ineligible records, and we are on pace to have the most accurate voter rolls in our state’s history. In total, due to our partnership with and efforts by our counties, more than 180,000 outdated or ineligible registrations have been removed since the 2016 election cycle.
The numbers are staggering, and progress will continue through the 2020 election cycle. As more ineligible/deceased names are removed, and new "live" voters are added, the voter registration rolls will continue to become more accurate.
I commend our county clerks for the substantial progress they have made to implement this first-class voter registration list maintenance program. West Virginia’s voter registration rolls have finally turned the corner, and stories of dead voters showing up at the polls are now a thing of the past.
Learn more about security efforts that are underway at www.SecureElectionsWV.com and please help spread the word on West Virginia's renewed effort in election integrity. Voter confidence in our elections depends on it!
Warner is West Virginia's Secretary of State.