Tennant: ‘Voter suppression laws’ introduced

PARKERSBURG – Two bills in the guise of voter ID laws are being opposed by the West Virginia Secretary of State and a non-partisan voting rights protection coalition she formed.

“There are those in our legislature who want to disguise voter suppression as voter ID laws,” Secretary Natalie Tennant said on Monday. “These laws would place unfair barriers on certain portions of the population that would make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for an otherwise legally registered voter to cast their ballot. This coalition of citizens from organizations around the state will not sit on the sidelines and let this happen. These laws that require people to devote money and time to obtaining one of these acceptable forms of voter identification will do only one thing and that’s keep people away from the polls.”

House Bill 2350 and Senate Bill 13, which are pending in the Judiciary Committees of each chamber, would require the voter to present a document issued either by the state or federal government with their name, address and photograph. Otherwise they would sign an affidavit and vote a provisional ballot and the signature would then be compared to the signature on record with the county clerk before the ballot is counted.

The Voting Rights Protection Coalition was recently formed and held its first press conference on Monday.

“The signature requirement is exactly what we do in our polling places now,” Tennant said. “Making election officials fill out more paperwork at the polling place will mean longer lines at the polling place. And if the Board of Canvassers decides that all ballots cast by those without an acceptable ID don’t count, that could mean that ballots cast by otherwise legally registered voters would be tossed out.”

The House bill was sponsored by Republicans Eric Nelson of Kanawha County, Carol Miller of Cabell County, Kelli Sobonya of Cabell County, Patrick Lane of Kanawha County, Erikka Storch of Ohio County, Bill Anderson of Wood County and Marty Gearhart of Mercer County. The Senate bill was sponsored by Republicans Mike Hall of Putnam County, Craig Blair of Berkeley County, Dave Sypolt of Preston County and Mitch Carmichael of Jackson County.

Passing voter suppression laws, like requiring an already legally registered voter to produce photo identification, would not have stopped election law violations similar to the absentee voting scheme in Lincoln County in 2010, Tennant said.

“This local effort seems to be the result of what national Republican groups are pushing, where they are looking for solutions where there are not problems,” Tennant said.

Requirements are already in place for a voter to provide identification at their polling place, Tennant said. If it is a person’s first time voting after they registered by mail to vote, they must produce a document that shows their name and current residence address, sucn as a driver’s license, paycheck or utility bill, she said.