Are There Issues With W.Va.'s Online Voter Registration?

Feb 17, 2016

Online voter registration - on the surface it may seem like a no-brainer idea to increase the number of voters in the state. But one county isn’t satisfied with the program.

Credit ovr.sos.wv.gov

In September of last year the Secretary of State’s office started offering the option of registering to vote online. Citizens can visit the Secretary of State’s website to register and often can visit their local county clerk’s site to also find the link. The option is seen as offering convenience, with the expectation of increasing the number of registered voters.  But Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole said the information being provided to the clerk isn’t satisfactory. 

"The issue that we have is that when we receive the information over the Secretary of State’s Online Voter registration program is that it doesn’t provide us with all the information that the law requires that we have to have in order to register a voter," Cole said.

  The online registration program is setup to mirror that of the paper voter registration card that’s been previously used throughout the state. It asks questions like name, location, age and citizenship. Registrants must provide their driver’s license number and the last four digits of their social security number.  The computer program will pull the registrant’s signature from what’s on file with the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles.

But the system could be breached, according to Cole. She’s afraid that anyone who has access to another person’s license number and social could then fraudulently change another person’s registration information, like political party or voting location. 

"I don’t want to open the registration process in Cabell County to possible fraud, my job is to protect the county voter’s information and their records," Cole said. "I’m terrified that at some point that we’re going to get an application from someone to change records and if we process it a voter’s record could be changed."

"It doesn't provide us with all the information that the law requires." -- Karen Cole, Cabell County Clerk

  So when Cole receives an online voter registration, she sends a self-addressed envelope back to the person wishing to register. The letter tells the citizen that Cole is not receiving enough information to properly register the person and needs them to fill out the accompanying voter registration card that’s long been used for registering to vote. 

A quick poll of various other counties shows that counties like Wood County and Monongalia County do process the online voter registration requests, while Kanawha processes applications of those making a move within the county or changing other information, but not residents that have just located to the area.  Those residents will have to request paper registration. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said the measures are in place to prevent fraud from occurring. She points out you first have to know the way the name is printed on the driver’s license, as well as the driver’s license number and the last four digits of the person’s social security number. 

"Then the questions that are asked you answer and agree being subject to perjury if you sign that and know it’s false or not and the it’s sent to the county clerk’s office that then processes it and then sends back that voter registration card back to the address that was used," Tennant said. "So the person who’s name is on there is the one receiving it, so that person is going to know."

Tennant said the law was passed in 2013 that allows for an Online Voter Registration Program. She said 

"They can fill out a paper form, but they shouldn't be forced to have to fill it out when there is a process they chose to use available." -- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

  they took their time to unveil the program, considering possible issues that may arise.   

Cole said the Cabell County Attorney told her if she had reservations about accepting then she shouldn’t.  Cole says to date she has received around two-hundred online voter registrations, for which she has sent a letter and voter registration card back to each participant. She said the public is only seeing the positive side of an online program. 

"You don’t have to go to the county clerk’s office anymore and you can sit in your pajamas at home drinking coffee and register to vote, that is a nice perspective, but they don’t know the laws and the information the clerks are getting and I think they would be a little bit upset that we’re expected to process these without having the legal information that is required in the code," Cole said.

Tennant says if counties are still having issues they need to let her know directly.

She said the online registration program was developed to make it easier on both the county clerks and those looking to register. 

"That was one of the points here, the time it’s going to save county clerk’s and the money that it’s going to save the state and the great thing is to, if a citizen doesn’t want to use online voter registration they don’t have to, they can fill out the paper form, but they shouldn’t be forced to have to fill it out when there is a process they chose to use available," Tennant said.

West Virginia’s Primary Election is May 10th. The deadline to register to vote in the Primary Election is April 19th.