Prevention of Election Fraud Key to Successful, Accurate and Fair Elections

Updated 27 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net

By Mac Warner

WV Secretary of State

 Charleston, W.Va.  – On December 6, 2018 the Charleston Gazette-Mail published an editorial titled “North Carolina case may show real election fraud.” This commentary is in response to that editorial.


Since taking office, my administration has well-publicized two top election priorities: preventing election fraud, and investigating people who violate election laws.  For far too long, West Virginia has gotten a black eye for illegal activities prior to and during elections. 


Over the last 21 months, our legal team has secured four convictions for election fraud, not just the one cited in the editorial. More notably, in 2018 alone our Investigations Unit closed 262 investigations.  Some of the misconduct was substantial enough we presented the cases to counties for further court action, but some county prosecutors chose alternative resolutions and did not present the cases to grand juries. 


By way of comparison, in the year prior to my taking office, only 40 investigations were closed. The 262 investigations this year arose almost exclusively out of citizen complaints of improprieties, and the volume of complaints indicates there are still numerous concerns of election integrity issues throughout West Virginia.


Our Investigations Unit is currently comprised of 11 professional law enforcement investigators contracted with our Office to investigate when needed. We are able to call them at a moment’s notice when complaints are filed, and they can be on-site anywhere in West Virginia in less than two hours. This responsiveness is new to West Virginia, as only two investigators – for our 1.8 million citizens -- were used prior to my taking office.  Now that we are conducting data-driven analyses for potential double voting, looking for mistaken voter identities, and searching absentee ballot trends to spot system misuse, our serious efforts at reducing fraud are making a difference. 


This type of response has captured the respect of elections officials and law enforcement agencies inside and outside WV. Importantly, people who might attempt to cheat have noticed as well. One report to our office cited an individual who chose to move to Florida saying, “There is a new Secretary of State, and we can’t do what we used to do at election time.” Ultimately, that’s the message that needs to be heard. Prevention of election fraud is the goal, reflected by our Election Division’s motto, “Easy to Vote and Hard to Cheat.”


The previous editorial referenced one of the four convictions regarding acts in the 2016 election cycle. That conviction stemmed from an important issue that should be watched closely. The perpetrator could have been prevented from casting an illegal vote if additional prevention measures were present between the DMV’s system and the statewide voter registration database.


The perpetrator was a non-citizen who registered to vote through the DMV’s Motor Voter process. Although non-citizens are eligible to get a West Virginia driver’s license, they are not eligible to register to vote. Upon discovery of the improper registration, the county notified the perpetrator that he was not eligible to register to vote and the county canceled his voter registration. 


But the ineligible non-citizen continued his pursuit to vote even after the initial cancellation. By using his driver’s license number in WV’s Online Voter Registration portal (OVR), he improperly registered to vote online.  Subsequently, he unlawfully cast a ballot in the 2016 General Election. In a post-election review, election officials became aware of his wrong-doings and took the appropriate action that ultimately led to his conviction. 


With increased prevention measures, improper registrations by ineligible registrants can be stopped long before they are able to cast a ballot. We have a duty to protect the election system from fraud as well as to protect people who may register to vote when ineligible–either by design or by mistake. By not doing so, ineligible voters become at risk, and legitimate voters lose confidence in the integrity our elections.


West Virginia’s OVR system verifies the validity of a registrant’s information by matching the driver’s license number to data maintained by the DMV.  The DMV currently processes non-citizen applications for driver’s licenses, but does not use that information for the purpose of preventing ineligible voter registration. Working together with the Governor’s Office and DMV, I will be asking the Legislature to enact common sense measures to prevent ineligible voters from using these registration systems.


In 2016, there were 26 races in WV decided by less than 10 votes. In 2018, we had races won by absentee ballots alone. With close races like that, we must do all we can to ensure every person voting is eligible and fraud remains thwarted by proper voter roll list maintenance and registration processes. 


Every vote counts, and just one improper vote dissipates the votes of valid registered voters. Think about it. One improper vote in a close race could change the outcome of an election and invalidate the true wishes of the electorate. Based on the hundreds of election violation investigations closed this year, it is clear West Virginians take election security very seriously and that our Office, with 55 county clerks, are leading the charge to provide successful, accurate and fair elections.


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