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Tweaks to election laws bring out supporters, opponents

CHARLESTON — A bill dealing with concerns raised by county clerks and making changes to West Virginia’s election laws received pushback Monday from progressive opponents who see the bill as voter disenfranchisement.

The House Judiciary Committee held a virtual public hearing Monday morning on Senate Bill 565, relating generally to elections.

SB 565 shifts the window for voting early, moving the start time up from 13 days before Election Day to 17 days. It also ends early voting on the seventh day before Election Day instead of the third, eliminating the Friday and Saturday early voting days immediately before the Tuesday Election Day. That gives county clerks more time to prepare for Election Day.

The bill would give county clerks two years instead of four to move voters to the inactive lists if they moved and failed to update their voter registration information every odd-numbered year after a federal election. County clerks mail confirmation notices to these voters who have not updated their voter registration and have not voted in any election during the preceding two calendar years.

Lastly, the bill does away with the dormant automatic voter registration program, leaving intact the traditional Motor Voter program at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Residents can choose to register to vote at DMV offices by opting in. Automatic Voter Registration, or AVR, would automatically register DMV customers to vote unless they choose to opt out.

AVR has been on the books in West Virginia since 2016, but it has not been implemented. In 2019, the Legislature delayed implementation until July 1 of this year due to numerous technological issues with the DMV. It was the second time AVR has been delayed.

SB 565 would eliminate AVR, a move the West Virginia County Clerks Association has supported in the past due to their concerns about being inundated with new voter registration for residents who will likely never vote, making the job of voter roll maintenance more difficult.

The bill has the support of both the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the West Virginia County Clerks Association, a bipartisan group of county-level election officials.

“This is not an election reform bill. This is not a bill that changes or makes sweeping amendments to our election laws,” said Donald “Deak” Kersey, general counsel for Secretary of State Mac Warner. “Both Democrats and Republicans support this bill because it makes sense. It does bring confidence.”

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