Latest News, WV Press Videos

Judge orders Cabell clerk to accept online registrations

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole must accept and process online voter registrations for those who completed the form before the Oct. 18 deadline.

The decision came after an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit was filed last week.

In his ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers said Cole placed a significant burden on online voters by requiring them to go through additional steps to complete their registration, thus violating their equal protection right, and ordered Cole to immediately begin processing online voter registrations.

West Virginia’s online voter registration was rolled out at the end of September 2015 after the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 allowing it.

To register online, or to change an address or party affiliation, residents must have a driver’s license and the last four digits of their Social Security number. A person’s signature is then pulled from the Division of Motor Vehicles website to authorize the changes.

This process was sufficient for 54 of the 55 counties in West Virginia; however, in Cabell County, Cole required an additional step. Voters there were mailed registration forms to be filled out and returned to the clerk’s office in order to complete their registration.

Because of this additional step, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and the National Voting Rights Project filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Huntington last week on behalf of Marshall University student Allison Mullins.

Mullins, 18, recently moved to Cabell County and used the online registration system Oct. 16 to update her voter registration information, putting her ability to vote in the general election into jeopardy.

“This is an important election and it’s important to make our voices heard,” Mullins said following the hearing.

During her questioning, Cole said Mullins was one of more than 4,000 voters who registered online just before the deadline. Of those voters, Cole said only about 2,000 have returned the form that was mailed to them, meaning they are registered to vote, while the registration for the remaining 2,000 voters remains in limbo.

“As I said when we filed the case, voting is a fundamental right at the heart of our democracy,” ACLU attorney Jamie Lynn Crofts said in a release. “Today, Judge Chambers affirmed that all citizens in the state should be treated equally when it comes to fundamental rights, and that the fundamental right to vote can never be taken away on the whim of a government official.”

Wendy Greve, Cole’s attorney, attempted to argue that Cole did not violate equal protection rights because registering to vote online was not a constitutional right.

Greve said that under the legislation, county clerks are allowed to verify the legitimacy of the registration.

In her arguments, Greve handed Mullins’ lawyers a copy of the mail-in registration form and told them that since Mullins registered before the deadline, she could turn in the form to the county clerk any time before the upcoming election and still be eligible to vote.

Previously, Cole said the reason she was requiring the additional step was because she does not believe the online registration on the Secretary of State’s website was secure due to the lack of a live signature and the assumption that anyone can use the last four digits of someone’s Social Security number and driver’s license to make changes to the records.

While Chambers did not agree with this reasoning, he did say that as a longstanding clerk, it did appear that Cole was operating under good faith and had given careful thought to her reasoning. He said that despite her good intentions, she did not have the right to reject online voter registrations.

In addition to processing the online voter registration, Chambers ordered Cole to send letters to the 2,000-plus voters explaining that their online registration was received and processed and they do not need to complete any additional steps.

He said this would eliminate the confusion for voters who had already received Cole’s first letter, which stated that they needed to fill out an additional form to complete their registration.

Cole declined to comment on the results of the hearing.

Early voting begins Wednesday in West Virginia

Wednesday marks the first day of early voting in West Virginia for the Nov. 8 general election.

Early voting in Cabell County will run for 10 days, through 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5. Locations for early voting include the Cabell County Courthouse, Suite 108, and the Cabell County Sheriff Field Office at 2726 Howell’s Mill Road in Ona.

Both locations will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Saturdays of Oct. 29 and Nov 5. Voting will not be available on Sundays.

The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Nov. 2; however, eligible citizens may request an emergency absentee ballot until noon on Election Day, according to the West Virginia secretary of state’s website.

See more from The Herald-Dispatch.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address