CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office said Tuesday that several groups advocating for a federal election reform package are spreading misinformation about what is and isn’t in the current form of the bill.
Secretary of State Mac Warner and Chief of Staff Chuck Flannery said that despite the claims of supporters of H.R. 1 and S. 1 – also called the For the People Act – many of the issues and concerns of West Virginia’s county clerks remain unaddressed in the current form of the bill.
“There’re just an awful lot of things that the clerks object to in this bill, and that’s why it’s so important to get the proper information out to the people of West Virginia,” Warner said by phone Tuesday.
Last week, 54 out of 55 county clerks sent letters to U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., urging them to reject the For the People Act if it comes up for a vote in the Senate. That could be as soon as the next two weeks if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has his way.
The For the People Act makes wide-ranging changes to voting rights laws, election regulations and campaign finance. County clerks oppose the act because it places more onerous regulations on state and county election officials; limits the authority of county clerks to maintain accurate voter registration rolls; requires same-day voter registration; allows for a single person to turn in more absentee ballots than state law allows, also known as ballot harvesting; and possibly scraps newer voting machines, costing taxpayers.
National and state advocates for the For the People Act, such as the West Virginia Working Families Party, claim that many of the concerns raised by the county clerks have already been addressed in the legislation. These include removing the voting machine recertification requirements and waiving deadlines to allow states and election officials to meet specific provisions of the bill until after the 2022 elections.
Flannery said an attempt to address concerns of state and county election officials was made through a manager’s amendment to S. 1, sponsored by Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. The manager’s amendment was the result, in part, of testimony Warner gave on behalf of county clerks during a March meeting of the Senate Rules Committee.
That same manager’s amendment failed, resulting in many of the concerns of county clerks remaining in the bill. Another 40 amendments were offered, with only 11 amendments passing, including an amendment by Capito that will allow the Secretary of State’s electronic mobile voting for military and overseas voters to continue. The bill itself resulted in a 9-9 tie in committee, though Senate Democratic leadership can still bring the bill up for vote.
“The misconception that was being shared by (the West Virginia Working Families Party) other groups across the state are that these concerns have been addressed in H.R. 1 and now S. 1. It’s just not true,” Flannery said. “Because of the failure of the manager’s amendment, those provisions still exist in the bill … these impossible tasks that they’re asking for are still in the bill and are the reasons why the county clerks oppose it and wrote the letter.”
Warner said he has continued to communicate with Manchin and Capito on the For the People Act. Pressure has mounted from fellow Senate Democrats, Capitol Hill media, and advocacy groups for Manchin to agree to end use of the filibuster that requires bills to pass with 60 votes in most circumstances.
“Even though (Manchin) has had quite a bit of pressure put on him to do away with that, he does not want that to be his legacy,” Warner said. “I think the majority of West Virginians are with Senator Manchin in his opposition to S. 1 and the majority of West Virginia supports him in maintaining the filibuster.”
(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])