Clerks dread auto voter registration

WHEELING — All West Virginians soon will be automatically registered to vote when they renew their drivers licenses, and it will be the charge of county election clerks to manage the resulting onslaught of registration information coming from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Some drivers won’t want to be registered, while many others already are active voters. The clerks will need to sort it all out, and determine address changes, political party affiliations and the answers to other questions as they arise.

The West Virginia Legislature has set a deadline of July 1, 2021 for the new system to be in place, and last week lawmakers also granted the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office authority to spend $1.5 million for technology to assist the state’s 55 county clerks with the change.

Local election officials aren’t sure what effect automatic voter registration will have on their counties, but they do know it will mean more work for them.

“I hate it,” Marshall County elections clerk Connie Howard said of the proposed new system. “The list I get (from the DMV) is going to be tremendous, and there might not be any changes (if those on the list are already registered). It also takes away the voter’s right to not renew their voting registration if they don’t wish to. I do know it will affect my workload.”

Wetzel County Clerk Carol Haught said she isn’t certain the new voter registration system with the DMV will be up and running in time to meet deadlines.

“Historically, we’ve always had problems with voter registrations at the DMV,” she said. “They send them back to the counties, and the people don’t always have everything filled out as they should. In perfect world, it shouldn’t be a bad thing if the software works. But to date, the software hasn’t worked.”

Haught said it will be incumbent on the election clerks “to do a lot of checking” of the voter registrations coming from the DMV. They will have to make certain of whether the applicant is already registered to vote, or a new voter. They also will have to check to see if there has been an address change, or a selection of a different political party.

“Until they get the bugs worked out, there will be a problem,” Haught said. “I foresee problems … until they get (working) software in place.”

Pam Northcraft, elections clerk in Brooke County, said because the county is so small she doesn’t think workers there will be overwhelmed by the number of registrations. She is more concerned about any confusion that could occur if data isn’t entered properly by the resident or the DMV.

The Legislature passed House Bill 4013 in March 2016, creating both the automatic voter registration program and a voter identification program. The voter identification program requires the voter to show one of 14 different types of photo and non-photo identification when casting a ballot.


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