Secretary of State’s efforts well intended, poorly executed

An editorial from The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A recent effort by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office to encourage residents to register to vote obviously meant well. But the planning and execution were poor, according to several county clerks.

“When dead people get cards from the Secretary of State reminding them to register to vote, it makes us all look bad,” Harrison County Clerk Susan Thomas wrote in a letter to Tennant’s office.

Apparently, Tennant’s office used a database that included not only people who were deceased but some who were already registered.

 Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick sent out a press release alerting residents to contact the Secretary of State’s office if they received the postcard but were already registered, West Virginia MetroNews reported.

Tennant said the postcard effort is designed not only to encourage registration but to help purge election roles of deceased voters.

West Virginia joined a nonprofit organization known as the Electronic Registration Center (ERIC), which states its purpose as “assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration to eligible citizens.”

West Virginia is one of 21 member states, all of which agree to reach out to residents prior to general elections to improve voter registration.

“As election administrators across the country and across our state know, it’s not enough to simply get all eligible voters registered,” Tennant said in a prepared statement. “We must also be vigilant in keeping our rolls clean and encouraging registered West Virginians to vote.

“While this postcard’s direct purpose is to remind eligible voters about the ways that they can get registered to vote, we will be working with ERIC over the coming months to receive data that can be used exclusively for voter roll maintenance.”

But county clerks have voiced concern with the use of databases and with the Secretary of State’s lack of communication.

“We have been part of and initiated many of these changes over the years, in collaboration with previous secretaries of state,” Thomas said. “We are no longer collaborating; we are blindsided.”

Thomas also felt the timing was ill-conceived and voiced concern over the use of databases, which in the past have been plagued with mistakes.

 “To roll all this out without our knowledge at the tail end of a major presidential election is the antithesis of the support and help we expect from the office of the Secretary of State,” Thomas wrote.

“… Our research shows that the ‘purging’ part of the system began in Kansas in 2005 with a system called Interstate Cross Check. That system has been shown to disproportionately remove minorities and low income voters from the rolls. We realize that ERIC is a different system and uses more data, but clearly it is also making errors.”

Again, the secretary of state’s motives appear genuine. But it is clear, the plan was poorly executed.

County clerks like Thomas and McCormick were right to call the effort into question to help avoid mistakes like this in the future.

The Secretary of State’s Office must do better in communicating with county clerks, since they must work together to ensure the best election system possible.

See more from The Exponent Telegram. 

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