CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s GOP supermajority Senate passed several bills Thursday that would change how elections are run in the state.
One bill proposed by Secretary of State Mac Warner and advanced to the House would require that county officials submit voting records into the statewide registration database 80 days after an election. Under current law, local officials have 120 days to enter voting records. The bill aims to help the state catch discrepancies earlier so results aren’t compromised, Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump said on the Senate floor.
The same bill would also allow Warner’s office to use federal money to purchase voting machines and extend the time people have to register to vote electronically.
Residents can register to vote 21 days before an election in West Virginia. Currently, people have until the end of business on the final day of registration to submit an application online. The bill would extend that time to 11:59 p.m.
Another bill advanced to the House would require that decisions about contested elections be made in circuit court. Right now, if there’s a dispute over a municipal election, state law allows for results to be reviewed by local officials like the mayor and city council.
The bill was introduced in part because of a controversial municipal election in the Eastern Panhandle where officials were making determinations about the outcome of a contested race they were running in, Trump said.
“There was widespread belief that that’s not the way to do this,” Trump said.
The last bill, proposed by the Secretary of State’s office and passed by the Senate, would give county clerks and commissions in West Virginia greater discretion to consolidate voting precincts. It would increase the maximum number of voters that can be served by precincts in urban areas from 1,500 to 2,500.
Current statute allows for the combining of precincts with polling places within a one-mile radius of each other. The bill under consideration by lawmakers would increase that distance to five miles.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Friday, a representative from the Secretary of State’s office said the bill came at the request of county officials. It’s intended to increase voter convenience and allow local governments to save money on voting machines and poll workers, said Donald Kersey, the office’s general counsel and deputy secretary.
Current law already contains a proviso that says that precincts can’t be consolidated if the change puts “undue hardship” on voters. Kersey said the Secretary of State’s office hasn’t conducted an analysis of how many precincts might be eligible to consolidate if the statute were to pass. Those decisions would be made by local officials.
But one group that monitors voting access in the state said more changes are needed to make voting easier before lawmakers propose new laws that could lead to fewer polling locations.
West Virginia has neither same-day voter registration nor universal vote-by-mail. The League of Women Voters of West Virginia said current state voting statute presents “many barriers.”
In a letter to lawmakers, the League said the reductions in polling places envisioned in the bill “are not bad per se, but do require offsetting improvements to prevent voter suppression.”
“The Legislature has offered no such improvements,” the League wrote.
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