CLARKSBURG — Area election officials say the Secretary of State’s Office dropped the ball in providing them with change-of-address materials to send to voters who may need to update their registration.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant blames the delay on some county clerks not responding in a timely manner to the office’s requisition form.
The issue came to light after the Americans for Prosperity Foundation sent what Tennant called misleading and confusing notices informing voters they needed to update their registration information.
Both Tennant and county clerks said such notices should come from the clerks’ offices.
But clerks said that’s been impossible because Tennant’s office was late in sending them labels with names of voters whose addresses may have changed or notification cards to send to the voters.
A federal mandate, change-of-address forms are official correspondences sent from county clerks to voters who have changed their address or not voted for at least two election cycles.
Sent every two years, the notices are an effort to keep voter rolls accurate.
The Secretary of State’s Office was late getting materials to clerks two years ago and very late this year, Harrison County Clerk Susan Thomas said.
Ideally, the county clerk’s office should have received the labels by the end of December in order to send the notices out before the May 13 primary, Thomas said.
“We just got our labels two to three weeks ago,” said Thomas, whose office has its own vendor to print the cards. “This should have been done prior to the election.
“Now after the election, we’re going to be taking care of this,” she added.
The Harrison County Clerk’s Office has about 16,000 notices to send out, up from the 5,000 it normally mails, Thomas said.
That’s because many residents’ addresses were changed from a rural route to a street name to make it easier for emergency responders to find them if they need help, Thomas said.
Other county clerks in the region also expressed frustration at not receiving the labels and cards in a timely manner.
Barbour County Clerk Macel Auvil said she received the labels three weeks ago, and her staff is comparing the voters’ addresses on the labels with those on file.
“We’d have rather had it done before the primary, and now we’re doing it between the (primary and general) elections,” Auvil said. “If the state had been on their toes and got their work done, we’d have already been done.”
Upshur County Clerk Debbie Thacker Wilfong said her office has not received any materials yet.
“It is a little late,” Wilfong said. “The Secretary of State’s Office should have been on top of this a lot sooner.”
Tennant spokesman, Jake Glance, attributed the delay to some county clerks not responding to the state’s requisition survey in a timely manner.
Glance declined to identify which counties were delinquent in turning in their information.
“Because the (change-of-address) cards are paid for through one state contract, all counties have to be completed at one time,” he said. “So if information is missing from even one county, it slows the entire process.”
Glance said some of the counties didn’t submit their information until January.
That was near the start of a 90-day period in which voters by law cannot be removed from the registration rolls, Glance said.
“Because of the delayed response from some counties, the Postal Service could not produce the cards in time to send them before that window,” he said.
Thomas, Auvil and Wilfong said their offices responded to the requisitions as soon as they received them.
They said the Secretary of State’s Office should have pressed the clerks who were slow to turn in their information.
“If that was the case, they should have been on the clerks who were late,” Wilfong said.
Glance said another setback was that one of the state’s contractors was audited.
“That delayed the process even further,” Glance said.
The county clerks and Secretary of State’s Office do agree on one thing: The delay doesn’t preclude voters whose addresses may need to be updated from exercising their right to cast a ballot.
The issue with the Americans for Prosperity mailing was it suggested just that, when the 90-day period in which voter rolls can’t be touched was already in effect, Glance said.
In fact, voters who go to the polls can change their address before casting a ballot, Glance and Thomas said.
No one wants the voter registration rolls cleared up more than the Secretary of State’s Office, Glance said.
But there is a limited time frame in which that can be done, he said.
“You can’t start the process until October before an election, and there is the 90-day block of time” when voters’ names can’t be removed from the rolls, Glance said. “We had that really small window.”
Staff writer Jim Davis can be reached at (304) 626-1446 or by email at email@example.com