Tennant

Natalie Tennant

As West Virginians prepare to embark on an ever-changing elections process, much of the information presented has been about the approach and expanded opportunity of absentee voting by mail.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, registered voters have been sent an application to request an absentee ballot be mailed to them. They can then vote from home and mail it back in.

That’s the key word: Registered. Somewhere in the midst of the talk about voting absentee (how to apply, how to vote, etc.), reminding eligible West Virginians to register to vote has been lost. If you are not registered, you can’t vote absentee; you can’t vote early; and you can’t vote on Election Day. So, if you’re not registered, all this talk is just that — talk.

In a non-coronavirus world, this time period before an election would have been dedicated to voter registration drives, high school assemblies for first-time voters and efforts to sign up eligible voters. Now we must approach it a little differently.

The deadline is still real. May 19 is the last day to register to vote if you want to vote in the June 9 Primary Election. If you’re looking for more information about the election process, deadlines and requirements, you can go to the website GoVoteWV.com. It’s a website I started when I was Secretary of State in an effort to make this vital information easier to find.

If you are not currently registered to vote, you can register online if you have a driver’s license or state issued ID. If you don’t have one of those forms of ID, simply print off an application and mail it to your county clerk.

Even if you think you’ve registered to vote, I urge you to visit GoVoteWV.com and check your voter registration record. My work at the Brennan Center for Justice on voting rights and elections kept me in the loop when it comes to voter purges in states across the country — and West Virginia has not been spared. If you did not receive your absentee ballot request form, be sure to check your registration and make sure you are still registered.

All of this could have been easier. In 2016, I led the efforts to make West Virginia the third state in the nation to pass automated or automatic voter registration at the DMV. It’s a convenient way to get registered or update your registration when you go to the DMV unless you decline.

But we have yet to see the advances. The current Secretary of State has refused to implement it and keeps asking for a delay. West Virginians are missing out.

As we are faced with this current crisis, West Virginians are missing out on a lot of support because of a lack of foresight by our current leadership.

Forward thinking ideas like online voter registration are so important. Thank goodness I had the courage to implement that convenience many years ago. It is what we are using now as we rely so much on technology and online services during this crisis. That is an example of being creative and innovative before a crisis hits.

In 2010, as Secretary of State, I implemented a two-phase pilot project that allowed for Vote-by-Mail to be tested in West Virginia cities and towns. Morgantown and several smaller towns successfully used the process. Since then, Harrisville in Ritchie County has also used it during early voting and saved money in the process. Vote-by-Mail has been successful and used in West Virginia for nearly 10 years. If we had expanded it once the pilot project proved successful, we could have avoided the necessity of emergency absentee ballot programs.

That’s another example of being creative, innovative and courageous before a crisis hits.

Even as we prepare for the Primary Election, we must look toward November’s General Election that cannot be postponed. We must embrace innovations and technology that will ensure the safety of our voters and our election workers while protecting the security, accessibility, and integrity of our elections.

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