The Secretary of State’s office is among the six Constitutional Offices on the election ballot next month.
The race for Secretary of State is more crowded this election cycle than in years past. There are three candidates running for the office-- Libertarian John Buckley, Republican Mac Warner and Democratic incumbent Natalie Tennant.
The Secretary of State’s Office has a variety of responsibilities, and is perhaps known best for overseeing elections. But registering and licensing businesses also falls under the office’s duties. Tennant, who is seeking her third term in the office, said she’s made that process easier for small business owners and more cost effective by putting more resources online.
"For eight years I have delivered on the promise of innovation for our businesses that save them time and money so they can concentrate on creating jobs and in doing so given money back to taxpayers, back to general revenue," Tennant said.
Tennant’s Republican challenger Mac Warner agrees, while it might not be an obvious function of the office, the Secretary of State can help mold the state’s business environment to foster job creation.
"Every government official. It should be their top priority to be looking as to how to create jobs and how to improve jobs," Warner siad. "I want to be a part of that process."
Warner is a 6th generation West Virginian, born and raised in the Kanawha Valley who attended West Point. He’s worked as a Jag-- a military attorney-- and has experience helping other countries establish their governments, experience he says will help him in the Secretary of State’s Office.
"I’ve seen things from a number of different sides," Warner said. "I’ve worked in the budgeting process, the procurement process, project management, proposal writing, all those things that you need to be working to fix government."
Tennant touts some major accomplishments during her time as Secretary of State. One is the improvement of the state’s overall election process. In August, the Pew Charitable Trusts released their latest Election Performance Index that showed West Virginia moving from 45th to 26th in the rankings of how well elections are conducted. Tennant pointed to one major project her office undertook to help improve that ranking- the implementation of online voter registration.
"We were able to implement that a year ago, which then put a foundation for the next modernization of elections across the country, OVR – online voter registration as we call it, is kind of, I don’t want to say old, but the next step is automatic voter registration of which the state legislature passed it and we are third in the country to pass that legislation," Tennant said.
The 2016 bill requires the Secretary of State’s Office to work with the Division of Motor Vehicles to automatically enroll voters in the state as they get a license or other ID.
But it’s programs like online voter registration that Republican Warner doubts. He said the office needs to pay more attention to shoring up the voting process and eliminating fraud by cleaning up the voter rolls.
"That’s where the process needs to be looked at here in West Virginia. I don’t know that they’ve been paying proper attention to issues such as cleaning up the voter rolls," Warner said.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, since Tennant took office in 2009, the state has received 415 complaints about potential voter fraud. Of those 415 complaints, 29 were deemed “probable,” meaning an investigation deemed something fraudulent did occur.
Those 29 cases included voting in the name of another person, someone voting who was not registered, writing in a county where that person doesn’t actually live, or even offering someone money for their vote.
In a time when West Virginians seem to be leaning toward electing Republicans to both state and federal offices, Tennant asks voters to recognize the good she’s done for West Virginia and to look past her national party affiliation.
"Look at Natalie and what she’s done over the last eight years and separate yourself and your feelings of how you feel about the presidential race," Tennant said.
Warner said more should’ve been accomplished during Tennant’s 8 years in office, but said that wasn’t possible because she was too busy running for other elected offices. Tennant unsuccessfully ran for governor during a special election in 2011 and then for U.S. Senate in 2014.
"It’s like she’s not satisfied with the job that she’s been elected to," Warner said.
Tennant argued she chose to run for other offices because she wanted to make a difference for her state, but she has still made major improvements in her office.
"What is wrong with offering your services in another area where West Virginians need that also," Tennant said. "I just ask people take a look at my record and take a look at both of my opponents record and don’t let a narrative of they have to knock me down to make themselves look better. My opponents have run for three offices before, you know West Virginians can spot a hypocrite a mile away, so if it’s good enough for them why isn’t it good enough for anybody else?”
Warner, who comes from a family that’s active in Republican politics in the state, ran for Congress in West Virginia's first district in 2010, losing to Republican David McKinley. Libertarian candidate John Buckley most recently ran against Tennant in 2014 for Senate.
Buckley, from Hardy County, served as a Republican member of the Virginia House of Representatives and spent years working in the federal court system as an administrator. He is the only openly gay candidate for an office on West Virginia’s Board of Public Works.