Something smells fishy under the WV Capitol dome. There has recently been some unusual activity surrounding a Voter ID Law that was enacted last year. Any time the legislature or Secretary of State even mentions changing voting rules, we will be extremely skeptical and watch them like a hawk.
Last year, the WV legislature passed HB 4013, which requires people to provide identification prior to casting a ballot. Voter identification laws are supposedly designed to stop voter impersonation. However, despite the unsupported claims of the US President and WV Secretary of State, voter impersonation is incredibly rare and is simply not a problem. As recent studies show, the real problem is with voter ID laws themselves, which suppress racial and ethnic minority voting.
As part of a compromise with legislators who were concerned with voter suppression, the WV voter ID bill that passed last year also created automatic voter registration for people who applied for, or renewed, their driver’s license. This provision of the law, which would dramatically increase the number of people eligible to vote on Election Day, would seem to ameliorate some of the voter suppression concerns of the voter ID requirements. The law is set to take effect on January 1, 2018.
In recent weeks, there have been some strange rumblings and rumors circulating in the legislature that the law—or, more nefariously, select portions of the compromise—could be under attack. On February 7, Pat Reed, the Commissioner of the WV Division of Motor Vehicles, sent a letter to House Speaker Tim Armstead. The letter indicates that the DMV will be unable to implement the automatic voter registration provision of the compromise law by January 1, 2018 without significant financial expense. In the letter, the DMV and WV Association of Counties call on the legislature to repeal the entire law, replace the law with new legislation or delay the effective date of the law until 2019.
And then on February 16, there was a very strange hearing in front of a subcommittee of the House Government Organization Committee. A single witness testified on behalf of the Secretary of State, the DMV and the WV Association of Counties. This is highly unusual, especially since the DMV is a division of the Department of Transportation—not the Secretary of State’s office.
We don’t know exactly what is going on here. However, we do know that Secretary of State Mac Warner has made several concerning statements regarding voter registration and mythical voter fraud as a candidate and as Secretary of State. We will be keeping a very close eye on this and update you on developments as we learn anything.
In the meantime, you should contact your representatives and the Secretary of State’s office to make sure that they know that the automatic registration provision of the law must not be tinkered with. We’d be happy if the legislature repealed or delayed the entire law. But we will fight any attempt to repeal or delay the automatic registration provision. Stay vigilant. We will need you to fight back against any attack on our ability to vote.