Technical, Philosophical Issues Behind W.Va. Motor Voter Delays

Lawmakers were informed Tuesday that plans for automatic voter registration through the Division of Motor Vehicles would be delayed until 2021. The delays are due in part to old technology.

by Phil Kabler, The Charleston GAzette / September 25, 2019
Shutterstock/John M. Chase

(TNS) — Technical issues — along with philosophical differences — are delaying implementation of a 3-year-old West Virginia motor voter law until 2021, legislators were advised Tuesday.

Donald Kersey, general counsel to Secretary of State Mac Warner, told legislators it will take the office another 14 to 18 months to implement automatic voter registration at the Division of Motor Vehicles, a law enacted in 2016.

Kersey said the office needs time to upgrade a 10-year-old Statewide Voter Registration System, after the Legislature approved a $1.5 million appropriation for the project in June.

“It will allow county clerks to process the influx of registrations,” he told the Joint Committee on Government and Finance.

While the completion date for that upgrade is July 2021, Kersey told legislators “we highly anticipate” the new system will be operational earlier in 2021.

While Kersey cited technology as the holdup in implementing motor voter, a report from the Secretary of State’s Office provided to legislators Tuesday also raises philosophical objections to automatic voter registration.

The report states: “It is important that the Legislature is aware that the vast majority of county clerks are foundationally opposed to AVR. WVSOS supports the clerks’ position that this law has the unintended implication of being practically unnecessary in light of regular registration efforts currently taking place without AVR.”

It continues: “This presents the question of whether it is government’s role to ‘automatically’ register a person to vote rather than offer them a free and fair opportunity to register?”

The report contends that essentially all voting-age adults in the state are either registered to vote or have received postcards asking if they want to register.

“These figures beg the ultimate question of whether voter registration is an ‘automatic’ right that should be imposed by government, or one that should be affirmatively asserted and exercised by the individual, the same as other Constitutional rights,” the report states.

During the 2016 campaign for secretary of state, Warner was an outspoken critic of automatic voter registration, at one point calling it a plot by billionaire George Soros, known for his financial support of national liberal and progressive causes, to register as many people as possible to vote, including “citizens, noncitizens, felons.”

Warner, who will be up for reelection in 2020, did not attend the joint committee meeting.

Under the law, people may opt out of the automatic registration, if they wish. Also, the Secretary of State’s Office and the DMV are required to implement new technology to be able to automatically register people to vote when they visit DMV offices.

Acting DMV commissioner Adam Holley told the committee Tuesday that the division’s side of the system is up and running.

“The DMV is in full compliance with collection of data for motor voter,” he said. “We’re collecting all the data and submitting it to the Secretary of State’s Office.”

The motor voter mandate was amended into voter ID legislation requiring voters to provide personal identification in order to cast a ballot. That portion of the law went into effect for the 2018 elections.

Also during the joint committee meeting:

Investment Management Board Executive Director Craig Slaughter said that, when fiscal 2018-19 statements are finalized, it looks like state pension fund investments will grow by about 6 percent. That’s below the 7.5 percent annual growth needed to keep the pensions fully funded, but still better than things looked going into June, he said.

“I think you all realize that the markets had a really rough last half of the fiscal year,” Slaughter said. “June saved us.”

By law, the government has to make up the difference when pension fund investment earnings are below 7.5 percent, but Slaughter said the 1.5 percent difference should be relatively nominal.

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow said the state likely will finish the 2019-20 budget year in the red.

“I’d say it’s a greater than 50 percent chance of ending up below the [revenue] estimate for the year,” he said.

©2019 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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