With the sentencing of three elected officials from Lincoln County for election law violations, there is a question of "can anything really be done?"
My answer is yes, and something has been done. No other secretary of state has the kind of record of cracking down on election fraud like my administration has. This office has more convictions in association with election law violations than previous secretaries combined.
But the work must go beyond the investigations, the charges, the sentences and the jail time. Time and again it has been proven that just focusing on the criminal investigation and sentencing is not enough.
That is why this office has been in several counties working with election officials to institute a new way of thinking, to train workers, to teach the correct procedure and to instill confidence in the election process.
It has come with an attitude and policy of "Not anymore." Not in Lincoln County, and not anywhere else in West Virginia. Not while I am your secretary of state.
Violations of our election law will not be tolerated. Those are more than words - it's been proven by the actions of my office while I have been the chief elections officer of West Virginia.
We've been in Lincoln County assisting election officials more times than I can count. One time, our elections specialist noticed a voter being accompanied to the election machine when she didn't require assistance. The elections specialist asked why they were doing that when it wasn't permitted. The reply was, "That's the way we have always done it."
"Not anymore," our elections specialist said.
From helping to maintaining the list of registered voters to making sure the people assisting voters as they cast a ballot really are there to legitimately help, the Secretary of State's Office has been there.
We didn't turn our backs on Lincoln County when so many other people did.
Even to this day, we are in constant contact with election officials in Lincoln County. They have been eager to make a difference and know that in the Secretary of State's Office they have a partner on which they can rely. With our support, election officials in Lincoln County and other elections officials across the state have now been able to ask questions and get straight answers. Simple changes like smaller and more interactive training for poll workers and a detailed review for those trainees are going to make a difference on Election Day. We have helped arm poll workers with knowledge of the law and the courage to enforce it.
Some Lincoln County voters said they felt intimidated while voting, but now feel more secure in the process knowing that we have had elections specialists in the county courthouse and community voting locations. They know the time is now to forever take back control of their elections and their government.
Helping election officials clean up their voter rolls, providing better poll worker training, and being there as a source of knowledge is part of the solution; the elections specialists do more than that. We listen to what people have to say. We have built a relationship with election officials in Lincoln County that will benefit everyone involved for years.
It's not just Lincoln County. We will work in any corner of West Virginia where election law violations are reported. It is up to the citizens, the eyes and ears of democracy, to report something if they think it is a violation of election law. It is obvious now that there is a secretary of state in office that will not tolerate election law violations.
And if there are people reading this who think they can continue to manipulate our elections by doing things they've done for years, I have two words for you:
Natalie E. Tennant
West Virginia secretary of state