By Mac Warner, WV Secretary of State
Midterm elections are upon us. The US Constitution, first ratified in 1787, prescribed means by which we choose our leadership. On November 8th, this 235-year tradition continues and West Virginians will cast votes for fellow citizens to represent us at the local, state, and federal levels of government.
Article 1, Section 4 of the US Constitution expressly designates state legislatures as responsible for providing the time, place and manner of holding elections. Our Founding Fathers felt state legislatures – as opposed to governors, judges, attorneys general, or secretaries of state – were best situated to set the rules for holding elections. Thus, when a state legislature writes election laws, it is incumbent on officials to strictly adhere to such laws.
Here in West Virginia (WV), our Legislature has struck an appropriate balance between access to voting and security in the process. For example, eligible voters are allowed to vote absentee by mail provided they meet one of the many reasons the legislature authorizes for voting by mail. Similarly, WV has a voter ID requirement, but there are nearly 20 types of acceptable photo and non-photo identifications, along with several exceptions that make secure voting quite easy.
The checks and balances in place in WV – along with election officials following the law – have led to high voter confidence in our elections. In fact, MIT ranked WV in the top 10 states in voter confidence after the 2020 election. States whose voters have low confidence in election integrity have also found themselves in courts recently addressing procedures that are inconsistent with their state’s election laws and rules. Several states have started to legally address the veering away of state law following the 2020 election.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has now declared the use of drop boxes, as used in the 2020 election, to be unlawful without the Legislature’s approval. In Pennsylvania, the General Assembly has laws in place restricting the acceptance of absentee ballots received after an election without a postmark. This law has been challenged and left in place by a very recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling and by the State Supreme Court, but state election officials are still acting in contravention of those rulings. Specifically, the Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State has given guidance that such ballots shall be counted. One can see the confusion and resulting lack of confidence in such a situation.
Fortunately, clerks in WV have adhered to state law. Nevertheless, as the Chief Election Officer, I continue to implore county commissions and boards of canvassers to closely follow state law when counting votes. Absentee ballot envelopes must be signed and dated, voters’ addresses must match voter registration records, and ballots must arrive on time. At the polls, voters must vote in the proper precinct and they must show identification. When everyone follows election laws, confidence grows in both the election results and the people we elect.
We should be concerned with any potential fraud. I’m bothered when I hear people remark, “Well, there wasn’t enough fraud to change the outcome of the election.” The remark insinuates that we can tolerate some fraud, or that irregularities are acceptable. In West Virginia’s 2022 Primary Election, 23 races were decided by 10 votes or less. No amount of fraud or changing rules at the last minute is acceptable.
This commentary is to issue one final recommendation for every voter to know their rights, and to recognize the extent to which state and local election officials go to uphold laws made by the legislature. Anyone who has concerns regarding their eligibility to cast a ballot—whether in person or absentee by mail—should contact their county clerk immediately. Every vote does count, but only properly cast ballots can be counted.
I wish every voter a great experience with voting this election. And I wish every candidate, their families, and their campaigns the very best on Election Day as I know they have invested a lot of time, work, and financial resources.
You can educate yourself on all things election-related at GoVoteWV.com. By knowing and following the law, confidence in our elections grows, and we all win.
Mac Warner is serving his second term as WV Secretary of State. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the WVU College of Law, Secretary Warner retired from the U.S. Army with 23 years of service at the rank of Lt. Colonel.