‘Project Election Protection’ addressing election integrity

West Virginia has had a checkered history of election integrity, with the purchase of the West Virginia Democrat Primary for John Kennedy in the 1960 election being perhaps the most notorious. But, as recently as 2012, federal authorities obtained criminal convictions against key officials for election fraud in one southern county. And in 2016, a West Virginia mayor was removed from office for registering voters past the deadline and subsequent election ethics violations during his reelection bid. Accordingly, as the chief election officer for West Virginia, I’m laser focused on protecting elections throughout our state.

My parents taught me, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So, I designed an eight-week program in West Virginia called “Project Election Protection.” This West Virginia-specific public education campaign has three objectives: (1) encourage eligible residents to register to vote, or if already registered, to make sure their registration information is accurate; (2) heighten awareness of election security; and (3) seek public assistance in assuring election integrity by asking people to report irregularities.

The project will begin in September and continue right up to the November 6 General Election. Over that period, my office will publish articles, op-eds and social media posts to accomplish these objectives.

The first week will cover voter registration list maintenance, something required by federal law. Each improper name removed from a list eliminates an opportunity for fraud, while also reducing candidate campaign mailing and ballot printing costs. Keep in mind, each year thousands of West Virginia’s 1.2 million registered voters move from town to town, county to county, and state to state. It is important for voters to be sure that their residential address is always up to date with their current county clerk. Keeping one’s voter registration updated will keep each person voting in the correct polling place with the correct ballot and reduces opportunities for fraud by someone misusing old information, say, on an unauthorized absentee ballot.

In subsequent weeks, we will address some common, yet questionable, practices. Areas of concern include candidate slates, improper electioneering, providing voters with things of value to vote a certain way, exceeding limits for campaign/election workers, voter intimidation and inappropriate voter assistance. Our laws place limits, restrictions and regulations on all of these activities, and “Project Election Protection” will inform West Virginia citizens of the law while letting them know what to do if they learn of illegal activity.

Unfortunately, violations take place during most every election. Candidates, campaign volunteers, poll workers, political committee members and supporters make mistakes — and people may not even realize a particular action is illegal. “Project Election Protection” is designed to educate the public, put people on notice, end bad practices and level the playing field for all candidates for political office.

I encourage all West Virginians to get involved and stay engaged in the political process. I want people to be registered to vote, to register others to vote, to actively support candidates, to become a poll worker on election day, and even to consider becoming a candidate themselves. The best way to do that is to work together every day to make our elections fair, open and transparent. Do not allow a few bad actors to steal your faith in our election process. Be proactive when you see an irregularity. We want to prevent bad things from happening in the first place, rather than spend resources to cure the wrongs after they have occurred.

You can read our public notices and guest editorials in your local newspaper, your favorite online local news source or by going to our website at www.wvsos.gov (see “News & Announcements” at the bottom of our homepage).You can also follow this effort on our Facebook page and Twitter account.

To check the status of your current voter registration or to register to vote online, simply click the following link: www.GoVoteWV.com.

(Warner is West Virginia secretary of state)

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