Op-Ed: Success and Accomplishment in Year One

Updated 34 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
By Mac Warner, West Virginia Secretary of State

On January 16, 2017, I was honored to take the oath of office as the 30th Secretary of State of West Virginia.


Through my first year, we worked to improve customer services and operational efficiencies in every Division. The good news is we did it – and we will continue to do it every day I’m in office.

Leading by example, I challenged every member of the Office to elevate the bar for customer service, efficiency and professionalism. In doing so, we raised metrics across the board while giving back more than $1.7 million to the state’s General Revenue Fund.  

The Office of Secretary of State has seven unique divisions: Administrative Law, Business & Licensing, Communications & Outreach, Elections, Legal & Investigations, Finance, and Information Technology. Here is a breakdown of Year One achievements:

ONE STOP BUSINESS CENTER 

-    For 15 years the idea of a Business One Stop has been discussed in West Virginia. In Year One, my office followed legislative directives, worked with the Legislature to amend State Code, and changed the financial structure of the Office. On January 30th, we will hold a grand opening of West Virginia’s first ever One Stop Business Center, and become a standard bearer for such One Stops across the nation.
-    West Virginia’s One Stop Business Center is the first across the country to include the Secretary of State, the State Tax Department, the Division of Labor, and Workforce West Virginia all in one building. And, we provide free parking with immediate access to all four state agencies. One Stop is a full-service location for more than 104,000 existing businesses registered to operate in West Virginia, and the one place to stop for new businesses. It is located at 1615 East Washington Street in Charleston.
-    We also added business hubs in two other locations – the Clarksburg North Central Business Hub at 200 West Main Street, and the Martinsburg Eastern Panhandle Business Hub at 229 East Martin Street.

IMPROVED CUSTOMER SERVICE 

-    At the request of the Secretary of State's Office, the Legislature authorized “expedited business services.” We now join 32 other states offering expedited services when businesses require action within one hour, two hours or 24-hours. Within the first four months, 1,148 entities had already taken advantage of expedited services, generating $48,100 in additional fees. These fees are used to offset the costs associated with the operation of these new offices.
-    Operating within existing budgets and personnel limitations, we created a seven-member call center to become more responsive to customer inquiries.
-    We updated our website, and will continue making improvements over time.

At Year One, I can report the following summaries for businesses in the state:
-    10,224 NEW business entities were registered and/or licensed for a total of 94,627 entities currently operating in West Virginia.
-    681 NEW non-profit businesses were formed bringing the total of non-profits to 10,912.
-    In addition, there are 3,783 charities registered to do business in the state.
-    This year there are 2,539 new notary publics, 23 new sports agents, and 1,172 new individuals registered and licensed to perform marriages in West Virginia.
-    There were over 142,000 UCC filings recorded, as well as 5,455 service of process filings.
-    92,845 annual reports were filed; 989 West Virginia businesses are owned by veterans; and 85 are operated by young entrepreneurs.

FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS 

-    In Year One we implemented a strategy to clean up the state’s voter rolls in all 55 counties. Working with County Clerks, we removed more than 86,000 deceased, duplicate, outdated and convicted felon voter files, representing about 6.5 percent of all registrations. 
-    Notably, in Year One we helped register 43,203 new voters. Of those, 13,688 were eligible high school students who registered via one of more than 100 voter registration drives. 
-    We created the Honorary Secretary of State award for students who were active in student-led voter registration efforts who registered at least 85 percent of their eligible student body. A key part of this effort was creating of a five-member field team -- again, working within our existing personnel structure and moving people out of Charleston and into regions throughout the state.
-    During the summer, we visited 100 of 101 municipal elections throughout the state. 
-    Our Elections Division worked closely with the state’s 55 county clerks to host and manage the October special election without a glitch. 
-    In December, we launched a public education campaign regarding the state’s new voter identification law. More than 20 stakeholder organizations joined our office in the effort to educate voters that Voter ID went into effect on January 1, 2018. The first election under the new Voter ID law took place this month in Lewis County with no recorded complaints.
-    We designed and implemented a mandatory online Campaign Finance Reporting System for candidates and political action committees to file financial statements. This new system will ease the burden of meeting filing requirements, as well as provide the public with a user-friendly search tool to increase transparency and help “follow the money” in elections.
-    We restored the duty of “Election Night Reporting” to the Office of the Secretary of State. More improvements are on the way in 2018.
-    We restructured our Investigations Office and procedures to make customer interface user-friendly and our investigations more timely and accurate.

In sum, I assure you we will make it easy to vote and hard to cheat in West Virginia. To do it, I brought an investigative analyst onboard to scour data sources and redefine the mission. We transitioned to a contract relationship with nearly a dozen part-time investigators around the state -- a model used by several other state agencies. The move skyrocketed productivity, resulting in closing a record 286 investigations, obtaining two convictions for illegal voting, and referring cases for criminal prosecution. 

CYBERSECURITY

I am passionate about protecting our data files and election systems from hacking. As such, we implemented a strategy of cybersecurity measures managed by some of the most talented IT professionals available. I am proud to say that I have become a nationally recognized leader in developing protocols and cybersecurity systems to protect national, state and local elections. I currently participate in the following:
-    Department of Homeland Security’s Election Infrastructure Council
-    National Association of Secretaries of State Cybersecurity Task Force
-    Harvard’s Belfer Center Defending Digital Democracy Program
-    National Association of Secretaries of State Business Services Committee

I led the national effort with the Department of Homeland Security to get Secretaries of State throughout the U.S. SECRET Clearances so we can communicate with our national security counterparts about threats to our election systems.

CONCLUSION

The conclusion may seem obvious, but is worth emphasizing: the work of the Secretary of State’s Office is diverse and never complete. We have a highly competent and effective team in place, and I enjoy coming to work. Our team of top-notch professionals, along with wonderful County Clerks throughout the state, strive to achieve our motto, “Working at the speed of business!” We take seriously our charge to streamline bureaucracy, insure fair elections, and to enhance business. Collectively, we remain fixed on bringing you excellent results. During Year Two, I will continue to raise the bar for my office, and continue to deliver to you - the voters of West Virginia – sound government.  
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