By Jess Mancini
Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — More than 36,000 names have been removed voter registration rolls in West Virginia since January, Secretary of State Mac Warner said Friday.
A priority since taking office 45 days ago has been to restore confidence in county clerks of several programs used by the state to keep voters registration rolls up-to-date, Secretary of State Mac Warner said.
Last year, more than 300,000 postcards were erroneously mailed through the Election Reporting Information Center system.
While many of the recipients were dead or already registered to vote, the cards said they were eligible to register.
County clerks “wanted to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Warner said.
Warner was in Parkersburg Friday with Dottie Underwood of Clarksburg, the new south central regional field representative of his office. Warner was elected in November, defeating Democratic incumbent Natalie Tennant.
The seven new field representatives will assist county clerks, he said. The last remaining representative to be hired will be for the Eastern Panhandle region, Warner said.
“I think the secretary is doing a wonderful job,” said Underwood, who previously worked for former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said. “I look forward to serving him.”
Warner is meeting with some county clerks Monday and plans to speak to the rest this summer.
“The clerks are the key component in all of this,” he said.
Their participation and cooperation is needed to ensure names of people no longer eligible to vote are removed from registration rolls, Warner said. Besides the Election Reporting system, which cost $30,000, the state also uses the free Kansas Crosscheck System, the National Change of Address program and other databases.
According to the secretary of state’s office, elections experts estimated there are more than 100,000 registered voters in West Virginia — about 10 percent — who may have moved from their initial registered address, died or have duplicate registration records on file and may need to be removed from voter rolls.
The state since January has cremoved 36,635 names from the voter registration rolls.
“That’s of the close of business on Thursday,” Mike Queen, Warner’s chief of staff, said Friday. A county-by-county breakdown will be available the first of the week, he said.
Warner at this time doesn’t suspect fraud, but that will be part of a review of the findings, he said.
“We’re going to see where the facts lead us,” Warner said.
Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes is appreciative of any help in finding inactive voters on the rolls.
The secretary of state has streamlined and made the process quicker, said Rhodes, citing how the county canceled 2,100 registrations last month. The process once took about two weeks, but was reduced to about 10 minutes through the secretary of state, he said.
“That saved us several clicks of the mouse,” he said.
The state office also is trying to develop a one-stop method for businesses to expedite filings for licenses and other required documents, Warner said. Links to other state agencies could be placed on the secretary of state’s website to help businesses get to the right place faster, he said.
“My motto is moving at the speed of business,” Warner said.
Upon taking office in January, Warner terminated 16 at-will employees. Some of those former employees have sent notices to the office that lawsuits may be filed for wrongful termination. Warner then hired 22 people including the seven regional field representatives.
Warner said he couldn’t comment on any lawsuits, but said the 53 employees in the office amounts to just one full-time and one part-time position fewer than under Tennant. Also, the new employees were hired at lower pay, for an additional cost savings, he said.
“We’re still within the budget with one less person,” Warner said. “And we’re doing more.”