Automatic voter registration still years out in WV

February 7, 2019

CHARLESTON — Despite passing automatic voter registration legislation in 2016, West Virginia is still years from implementing the program thanks to aging infrastructure unable to support it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed a bill to extend the deadline for program implementation by another two years. The deadline was first extended to 2019 in 2017.

As explained by representatives from the Division of Motor Vehicles and the Secretary of State’s Office, West Virginia’s infrastructure as it currently stands cannot support automatic voter registration.

Automatic voter registration means individuals will have to opt out of being registered to vote when they receive or renew a driver’s license instead of opting in like it is today. West Virginia was the third state to pass such a law, though others have followed since.

Linda Ellis, interim deputy commissioner for the DMV, said the department mainframe has been the same since she started working there 26 years ago. It also does not have its own programmers, instead relying on the Department of Transportation to update and fix any issues the DMV has.

The vendor the DMV contracts with to provide systems for online voter registration will have an updated system by October, but Ellis said they don’t know how the DMV system will work with the vendor’s new system.

To implement automatic voter registration, the DMV and its vendor must also work with the Secretary of State’s Office’s systems. Ellis said the DMV has put in requests to the DOT to have its programs updated, but only one of those requests has been completed.

The county clerks are also involved in this process and manually check all of the voter registration information. Other states that have automatic voter registration have systems in place to automatically check that information, said Donald Kersey, deputy legal counsel for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Kersey said county clerks want the automatic voter registration law repealed because it places such a large burden on their offices to manually check all the new information.

Added to that, the system as it currently stands has issues. In October, the Secretary of State’s Office informed the DMV that registrations were not making it from the DMV’s vendor to their office, and thus people who thought they were registered were not. All three

entities are still trying to figure out why that is happening in some cases.

Committee chairman Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, questioned why it has taken the DMV so long to begin to submit program changes, but Ellis, who is new to her position, could not answer those questions.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, proposed an amendment, which was adopted, to require the DMV, DOT and the Secretary of State’s Office to give an update on their progress to an interim committee in September. He also advised the DOT and Secretary of State’s Office to find funding in their budgets to do the required system upgrades.

″(Automatic voter registration) is a good thing we should strive for, but we can’t do that if it’s going to be a complete catastrophe,” Romano said.

Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said as legislators begin to really study the issue, they will find catastrophic flaws.

“This is a problem two decades in the making,” he said, adding that a lack of funding for upgrades has led the state here.

The bill as amended was adopted by the committee and will be sent to the Senate floor.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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