By Matthew Young, RealWV
WASHINGTON, D.C. – W.Va. Secretary of State Mac Warner, on Thursday, appeared before the Congressional Committee on House Administration, to participate in a panel discussion pertaining to voter confidence in elections.
“There are three primary elements to successful election administration,” Warner told committee members, “State autonomy, maintaining voter confidence, and limited federal government involvement in election administration.”
According to Warner, a “one-size-fits-all policy” for elections is impractical, as every state has different “voting experience expectations.” Warner further explained that voter confidence develops through verifiable “technical excellence,” as well as the “perception of access, fairness and security,” noting that, “Absolute transparency in elections and the process of elections is paramount.”
Regarding his belief of the need to limit the federal government’s involvement in state elections, Warner cited recent allegations that employees of numerous federal agencies colluded to influence the 2020 presidential election.
“Specifically, I am referring to the recent news of purposeful disinformation concerning Hunter Biden’s laptop put forth by 51 so-called intelligence experts that misled the American people,” Warner said. “I am obligated to run free and fair elections, and what our own federal agencies did in the 2020 election was not legitimate or fair.”
After the conclusion of the meeting, Warner spoke with The RealWV about his testimony, as well as the changing of numerous voting locations across West Virginia, which was made necessary by the redistricting process.
“We went from 67 multi-member districts, to 100 single-member districts,” Warner said. “That alone tells you that there’s going to be a lot of new lines being drawn. And then we also had the census (2020) where we (West Virginia) lost a congressional-member, so that also caused some lines to be redrawn.”
To assist in the redistricting process, Warner said that GIS mapping (Geographic Information System) technology was utilized. However, while more efficient than redrawing maps by hand, the advanced technology was not without its own shortcomings.
The first statewide election to take place after the redistricting process was last year’s spring primary. Numerous reports were received by media outlets in several counties pertaining to the difficulty and confusion many voters experienced upon learning their polling location had changed.
“Now you have very precise mapping, but we actually had situations where the line went between somebody’s mailbox, which is their physical address, versus their house where they actually live,” Warner noted. “That kind of specificity is going to cause some issues.”
While the 2022 primary was a frustrating experience for many voters, November’s general election was seemingly executed with fewer obstacles for voters to overcome.
“Those sorts of kinks were identified in the primary,” Warner said. “By the general, most of those had gotten worked out. It’s a painful process, but we’ve now gotten much better mapping, accuracy – and the (county) clerks now are tuned in to all these issues.”
Warner added that the physical locations of roads and bridges also made the mapping process difficult. Looking ahead however, and despite 14 of West Virginia’s 55 county clerks being newly-elected, Warner doesn’t foresee any significant challenges ahead for the state’s 2024 election. Although, according to Warner, the same cannot be said of the national election.
Last March, Pres. Joe Biden issued Executive Order 14019, allowing the offices of various federal agencies to be used as voter registration locations. These agencies would be in addition to state Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) locations already being used for this purpose.
“It’s unnecessary,” Warner said. “You can now do it (register to vote) online – on your phone, on your computer. In 1993 when the NVRA (National Voter Registration Act) was passed, we didn’t have that capability. Not everybody had cell phones – cell phones really didn’t come along until (around) 2006. By that time, we were almost 15 years into the DMV, and of course people are going to use it.”
“I’ve used the analogy before,” Warner added, “If we had voter registration at Burger King, a lot of people would register at Burger King. But that doesn’t mean it’s the proper place to do it. I don’t issue driver’s licenses from the Secretary of State’s Office, so why should they be issuing voter registrations from the DMV?”
Warner further stated that numerous discrepancies have been reported pertaining to DMV registrations, and county clerks are tasked with correcting these discrepancies, noting that, “Last year, almost half of the registrations that came through were duplicates.”
“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing,” Warner said. “The majority of the clerks – at least the first term or two that I was in – were Democrats, and they were the ones coming to me and asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’ It’s pushing a square peg through a round hole.”
Warner explained that under Executive Order 14019, some 600 federal agencies nationwide would have been utilized as voter registration centers.
“Think of the duplications we have now with just DMV,” Warner said. “It just adds unnecessary work to these county clerks who are already overworked and underpaid.”
Although Warner feels that limited involvement in state elections on the part of the federal government is crucial, he does believe that some federal oversight is necessary to ensure fairness and access at the state level.
“If it’s a civil rights violation, or if it’s a human rights violation, or if a state legitimately went back to the Jim Crow era – those were laws passed to suppress blacks from voting in the south,” Warner said. “That’s what the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts were all about – ensuring that the precepts of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were lived up to.”
“If a state actually infringes upon somebody’s civil or human rights, then the federal government should step in and provide oversight,” Warner concluded.
West Virginia’s primary elections will be scheduled between March 5 and Sept. 30, 2024. General Election Day is Tuesday, November 5, 2024.