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Destroying access, confidence in elections

It is time to set the record straight on S. 1, the Senate’s version of H.R. 1 or the “For the People Act”, which is the federal legislation currently being discussed by the U.S. Senate that gives the federal government authority over elections in all 50 states. The Senate leadership recently released their newest version of the legislation in a “manager’s amendment” to the bill and in a tone-deaf fashion, continues to miss the mark.

In March I testified before the U.S. Senate about election access and integrity. The Senate sought perspective from our state because we were successful in expanding access to the ballot box while maintaining voter confidence–a challenge not met by many states.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently released a report ranking West Virginia near the top of all 50 states in voter confidence during the 2020 election. The report shows WV had a balanced approach to voting options, including in-person voting on Election Day, early voting, and voting by mail.

Our state laws provide a variety of access options to the ballot box while maintaining security for all ballots cast. Our inclusiveness for military voters, overseas citizens and voters living with disabilities is unparalleled. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) just recognized WV’s leadership with its 2020 Clearinghouse Award for “Best Practices in Election Administration for Improving Accessibility for Voters with Disabilities.” Let there be no doubt–West Virginia leads the nation in ballot access and confidence in elections.

I clearly told the U.S. Senate that S. 1 legislation eviscerates state control over our elections. As proposed, it takes away the very methods of voting for which the EAC just gave us an award.

The recent “manager’s amendment” proposed by leadership continues to decrease accessibility and limit voting options. It expressly eliminates secure electronic ballot transmission options for overseas voters and military personnel, and prohibits accessible technology that allows citizens living with disabilities to vote independently–all options that were pioneered right here in West Virginia.

The bill continues to threaten voter confidence and security of our elections by gutting West Virginia’s voter-list maintenance programs that keep our rolls accurate and current. It also forces states to allow voters to both register, and vote, on election day. Yet many states like West Virginia lack secure broadband internet access, leaving officials unable to verify eligibility and prevent bad actors from voting more than once in real-time.

The current proposal also forces states to abandon even the newest upgraded voting equipment, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars in West Virginia alone. Over the past four years West Virginia election officials have aggressively upgraded voting equipment from 16% of our population using newer systems to near 70% of our population voting on the more secure and accessible systems. These efforts will need to be scrapped and start over with a purchase of new equipment by the year 2026, nowhere near the end of the normal life span for this equipment.

Senator Manchin is a former WV Secretary of State, and he understands the nuances of election administration. I have spoken with Senator Manchin on a number of occasions on this bill. He is well aware that WV county clerks stand firmly against these provisions in the most current proposal for S. 1, and recognizes the severe dangers of the provisions that will turn West Virginia elections on their head.

Voters in West Virginia should not be misled by the out-of-state special interest groups that are spending tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of dark-money dollars to put pressure on Senator Manchin to vote in favor of the legislation against our interests.

I implore you to look at what the legislation prohibits and requires: restrictions that make it harder to vote for our military and voters living with disabilities; mandates that open opportunities for bad actors to take advantage of rural jurisdictions’ lack of internet access; and it crushes local election officials’ ability to do their jobs legally and accurately. And, it has prohibitions that reverse our years of hard work balancing access with security, while making our voter rolls more accurate than ever.

The facts are indisputable: H.R. 1 and S.1 are not good for West Virginia, and not good for America.

Mac Warner is in his second term as West Virginia’s 30th Secretary of State.

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