W. Va. Secretary of State Says Vendor to Blame for Website Issues

The Secretary of State called the issues “unacceptable" as candidates complained about an inability to file their most recent campaign finance reports on the website.

by Dave Boucher, McClatchy News Service / May 1, 2014
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant Flickr/Sonja

A vendor with a $210,000 contract to update the campaign finance reporting system on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website isn’t doing a very good job, according to the state elections officer.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant called the website issues “unacceptable” in a letter written Monday to candidates throughout West Virginia.

“The company that was hired to update the campaign finance reporting system has not met the standards of my office, has not met the standards of the contract or what West Virginians deserve,” Tennant said during a meeting with the Charleston Daily Mail editorial board Tuesday.

“They are being held accountable.”

The Florida-based company, SOE Software, signed the $210,000 contract on March 19, 2013, Tennant spokesman Jake Glance said. The money for the contract is coming from funding set aside by the office.

“It’s not costing taxpayers additional money,” he said.

The company received a $60,000 payment from the office in July, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the funding was related to its work on the campaign finance system.

Several candidates have complained about an inability to file their most recent campaign finance reports on the Secretary of State’s website, due April 4.

Reports were either missing or difficult to find on the site. As of late Tuesday there was no immediately discernible pattern for the organization of candidates for state Senate and House of Delegates, making it cumbersome to see who is running in which district, what party the candidate represents and potential opponents.

“The company has said the new system will be finalized before the next reporting period at the end of May,” Glance said in an email to the Daily Mail.

“The Secretary is prepared to take additional action if that deadline is not met.

Glance didn’t go into detail regarding problems with the vendor. The office is requiring SOE have someone on site all week to help address problems, Tennant said.

SOE is supposed to provide daily updates on functionality and problems with the site, and devote “all available resources” to the site until the update is complete, Glance said.

Complaints about problems with the Secretary of State website are not new or unique to Tennant’s tenure. There were a slew of problems with several aspects of the site, including campaign finance, when she took office in 2009, she said.

“The reason that we’re here is the system that was in place when I came into office,” Tennant said.

“It didn’t have the transparency or the standards that I ask for.”

The new system doesn’t either, but it will when work is complete, she said. The old system didn’t allow anyone to search for a campaign donor by name, and the system did not always accurately store funding totals from one filing period to the next.

“The new Campaign Finance Reporting System will also give citizens an easy to read bar graph that will quickly tell them how much money a candidate has raised and how much they have spent,” says a document Tennant sent to candidates in addition to her letter.

“The contributions and expenditures will also be broken down by how much money was raised and spent in each of the three branches of government.”

Portions of those updates are available now, but they are incomplete and at times prone to glitches.

Candidates are not required to file online. Many submit paper reports. They are available online now, but not integrated with the reports filed online.

Tennant was quick to point out other aspects of the website are working well. She said West Virginia’s portal for businesses is a success, and the office has received numerous awards for other aspects of the site.

Both Tennant and Glance also mentioned the office’s use of technology to support overseas voting, typically associated with West Virginia residents serving in the military.

SOE, owned by Baltimore-based Scytl USA, also served as the contractor on that system in at least 2010. Scytl received $60,000 to send out ballots to voters overseas.

While Tennant champions the system, 21 county clerks — including Democrats and Republicans — opted against using the system. Some said they had problems with the system and others said it wasn’t necessary, according to Daily Mail archives.

State Republicans criticized Tennant and her office Tuesday for the website issues. GOP Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said the problems were “embarrassing” and accused Tennant of focusing more on her campaign for U.S. Senate than on addressing the issues.

“For weeks, candidates from both parties fought Tennant’s website in order to report campaign fundraising and to allow voters and media to see exactly who has spent what,” Lucas said in the statement.

“Flat out, it doesn’t work. It’s embarrassing.”

Tennant, the probable Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate, will likely face Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in the general election. Jenny Donohue, a Tennant campaign spokeswoman, called the comments a “desperate attack” in an attempt to divert attention from Capito campaign donors and her record.

The primary election is May 13.

©2014 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)