In 2016, West Virginia enacted a voter identification (“ID”) requirement and implemented a system for automatic voter registration (“AVR”) with the same legislation. While AVR was initially set to begin on July 1, 2017, it has not yet been implemented by the Secretary of State.
On February 19, 2016, the West Virginia House passed House Bill 4013, enacting a voter ID requirement prior to voting. While under consideration in the Senate, an amendment was added to the bill to establish AVR. On March 12, the legislature approved the final version of the bill containing both the voter ID and AVR provisions. Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the bill on April 1.
The amendment adding AVR to the bill was largely unopposed by Republicans in the Senate and was passed with only a voice vote. The Republican legislators, to the extent they considered the AVR provision at all, believe that AVR would help increase voter turnout. West Virginia is 49th in the nation for voter turnout; only 42.5% of electors voted in 2018.
The AVR system will have the following features:
- The Division of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) will collect the following information from anyone applying for or updating a driver’s license or identification card:
- Full name;
- Date of birth;
- Residence address and mailing address, if different;
- Electronic signature;
- Telephone number;
- Email address;
- Political party membership, if any;
- Driver’s license number and last four digits of Social Security Number;
- A notation that the person has attested to voter eligibility.
- The DMV will release all information obtained to the Secretary of State unless the person affirmatively declines to register to vote or update an existing registration.
- The Secretary of State will forward the information to the relevant county clerk.
- If a person declines to register to vote, the DMV will transmit the person’s name, address, date of birth, and electronic signature to the Secretary of State in case the person decides to register to vote in the future.
- The Secretary of State will establish procedures to maintain the confidentiality of information obtained from the DMV.
Delays in Implementation
AVR was set to begin in West Virginia on July 1, 2017. However, the Legislature pushed this date back on two different occasions. Most recently, Senate Bill 491 extended the implementation deadline to July 1, 2021. Therefore, the AVR system will not be in effect before the 2020 Presidential Election.
According to a statement by Donald Kersey, General Counsel for Secretary of State Mac Warner:
“The whole purpose of the delay is to make sure that the correct systems are in place, and that the best systems are provided for the county clerks to handle the influx of the registrations in their offices, and to make sure that connections between the DMV systems and the Secretary of States systems are talking properly.”
Donald Kersey explained the Secretary of State’s office must first upgrade its out of date Statewide Voter Registration System with funds the Legislature appropriated in June 2019 before the system can function properly and efficiently. Kersey anticipates AVR being ready by early 2021, a few months before the current deadline set by the Legislature.
Lawyers Democracy Fund remains opposed to automatic voter registration. Even if adding the AVR amendment to the bill helped ease the passage of a voter ID requirement in West Virginia, AVR is not a beneficial system to adopt. Further, implementing AVR likely does not increase voter turnout, much to the dismay of West Virginia’s legislators. LDF will post updates to this page as AVR is implemented in West Virginia.