West Virginia voters are engaged in our democracy

President Lincoln said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision.”

Faith in our American democracy depends on confidence in the election process and results. When confidence is shaken, so too is the confidence in our government and our leaders.

Even during the pandemic, West Virginia’s election laws and procedures gave voters confidence in our system of selecting leaders, and that confidence propelled the highest voter turnout in over half a century, and second-highest turnout in our state’s history.

While COVID-19 created challenges for every state, West Virginia was prepared. Beginning in 2017, we began building relationships with our 55 county clerks and conducting extensive training. We shepherded voter list maintenance procedures with our clerks, and to date, they have removed over 200,000 deceased, duplicate, and outdated records from voter rolls. We created and practiced contingency operations, established extensive cybersecurity policies, and created a statewide Continuity of Operations Plan. We also initiated an elections-specific anti-fraud task force with state and federal partners to identify, investigate, and prosecute improprieties.

So, we were ready for the 2020 elections, and our preparatory measures stood strong. When the pandemic struck, we began taking extraordinary measures to protect the health and safety of voters and election officials alike. We secured, distributed, and issued extensive guidance regarding the use of PPE to maintain the gold standard of in-person voting as much as possible.

The pandemic allowed people to vote an absentee-by-mail ballot without legislative changes due to a legally identified medical excuse as a reason posed by the risks of COVID-19. West Virginia offered more ways to cast a secure ballot than any other state, and based on the historic turnout, the public was well educated on their options.

After ballots were cast, the next step was tabulation of the votes. Here again, West Virginia was prepared. Under existing law, county clerks were able to efficiently and securely process and tabulate ballots in a timely manner, and we saw nearly all statewide results within hours of the polls closing.

While voters in a handful of states still question whether their state-specific laws were properly implemented, West Virginia voters are confident and proud of our election success. Our poll workers, clerks and other election officials followed the laws that have been in place for years by our legislature, and adhered to guidance put forth by the Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General to respond to the pandemic emergency. In doing so, we held one of the best, and safest, elections in the United States, and in the history of West Virginia.

Lincoln was right. Elections belong to the people, and West Virginia is but one of 50 states that choose our national leaders; we are inextricably tied to the rest of the U.S. The horrible events at our nation’s capitol on January 6th showed how fragile our democracy can be when people lose confidence in the election process. We all watched in horror as the protest turned deadly.

Under no circumstances should violence, mayhem, or destruction be tolerated. People who broke the law must be held accountable, and I condemn their actions. While I support small government, and free, safe, and secure “one-person one-vote” elections, I do not support violations of law in pursuit of a different outcome. Our judicial system is the appropriate venue for raising arguments and presenting evidence; not destruction at our capitols and other government buildings, or putting people’s safety in danger.

Due to proper preparation and extraordinary voter turnout, West Virginia had an exceptional election. Recent events should not distract from our successes. On Wednesday, January 13th, I presented our certified election results to the WV House of Delegates and the WV Senate, allowing the start of the 85th Session of the WV Legislature. Through voter engagement and following the rule of law, WV voters can have confidence in the election process and confidence in our elected leaders. Indeed, it is “their decision.”

(Mac Warner is starting his second term as West Virginia Secretary of State. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the West Virginia University College of Law.)


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