Opinion: Gazette-Mail reporting seems only to serve to pressure Joe Manchin on federal election reform

By Mac Warner

WV Secretary of State

Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Phil Kabler recently misled readers on election reform being considered by the West Virginia legislature.  Kabler made no attempt to reach me or my staff to verify the accuracy of his story or for comment on the article.

Mac Warner, W.Va. Secretary of State

The legislature is currently considering the “Security, Confidence & Integrity in WV Elections Act” (SB-565) that will improve the state’s election process.  SB-565 contains lessons learned in 2020 from our state’s 55 county clerks and the United States Postal Service.   

Twice now, the United States Senate has invited me to testify regarding our highly successful 2020 elections, with senators citing West Virginia as having held some of the best elections in the nation. Nearly 80% of the state’s active voters (more than 802,000) voted in the General Election last November. Clearly, there are no issues with people registering to vote, and there are no problems with people being able to vote. Yet, our collaboration with the county clerks resulted in slight adjustments in legislation to improve the process.

The Gazette-Mail left out of their story that one half of Democrat State Senators joined Republicans to pass the SB-565 legislation earlier this week. The title of Kabler’s article, “WV Senate passes bill to rein in voting options,” could not be further from the truth — and the Gazette-Mail knows it.

Kabler and the Gazette-Mail want to create pressure on Senator Manchin into supporting the federal takeover of elections via S.1 – federal legislation emphatically pushed by NY Senator Chuck Schumer. Using wrong information from articles such as Kabler’s, Schumer and his ilk will, no doubt, soon be calling West Virginians racists for wanting election security.  

I met with Senator Manchin when I testified before the U.S. Senate. We had a very constructive meeting wherein he expressed his concerns with S.1, apprehensions that mirrored our county clerks’. As a former WV Secretary of State, Manchin well understands the numerous election administration problems with S.1, and agrees many of the policies contained in the legislation won’t work in a one-size fits all approach by the federal government.

Knowing the unanimous opposition by our county clerks to S.1, I was heartened to hear Senator Manchin express his intent to seek bipartisan middle ground. He did not want S.1 to further divide this county, and he would not support busting the Senate filibuster in order to pass S.1. Having previously been in the minority, Manchin knows the filibuster ensures the minority gets a voice, and he certainly would not be the one who busted the filibuster.

On a number of occasions, I have discussed with Gazette-Mail management the responsibility of the paper to report election-related articles accurately. Their paper should not be a source of purposeful wrong information.

With one simple phone call, I could have prevented Phil Kabler from writing wrong information, had he so desired. I would have told him SB-565 does not make it harder to vote.  SB-565 allows for the same number of early voting days including two Saturdays.  And Kabler’s citing of “voter suppression laws” is conjecture, not trusted news.

Most egregious was his intentionally misleading comment about purging voters after failing to vote for two years. My office has explained to Mr. Kabler numerous times that no name is ever taken off voter rolls for simply not voting.

Not voting for a time designated by code allows a clerk to confirm the address and the voter’s intent to stay registered at this location. Only after someone fails to respond, or their mail is returned undeliverable, can a clerk place the name on inactive status. If the voter misses two more federal elections – for a total of inactivity of more than six years under this proposal — the clerks may remove the abandoned registration from voter registration list. All a voter needs to do during this 6–7 year period is vote, contact their clerk, or visit the DMV and ask to return to active status.

We have spent considerable time, money and effort to counter election misinformation from Iran, Russia and China. It is a shame that the biggest offender of pushing wrong information into the public domain is now our state’s largest newspaper. Kabler too often does not verify his information and the Gazette-Mail permits him to do so. Everyone should seek election-related information from trusted sources, and the Gazette-Mail has proven time and again their reporting on elections information cannot be trusted.

My office, our county clerks, and the West Virginia legislature are working together to continually improve election administration. We are transparent, open, and deliberative. West Virginia leads the nation in safe and secure elections and we will continue to do so guaranteeing every eligible citizen access to the ballot box.

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