Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: W.Va. has the right election formula

by Amanda Carpenter

West Virginia should be proud of how well it performed during the 2020 election. When confronted with the challenges of the pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice and Secretary of State Mac Warner acted quickly to ensure that West Virginians would have full and secure access to the ballot. And, given all the strife around the country surrounding the 2020 election, the other 49 states would do well to consider the West Virginia way of doing things.

As Secretary Warner put it, “West Virginia offered more ways to cast a secure ballot than any other state.” Indeed, more than 802,000 West Virginians voted — the second-highest in state history. As Warner said: “[W]e held one of the best, and safest, elections in the United States, and in the history of West Virginia.” Indeed. There was no question about the result; the counts were accurately recorded and reported on election night. What a success!

Unfortunately, not all the other states did as well as West Virginia. There was confusion about mail-in ballots and concerns about fraud. Many states took a long time to count votes. Election integrity is an ongoing worry. But, if the states are laboratories of democracy the results are in: Mountaineers have the right formula. So, why keep it to ourselves? Enter Sen. Joe Manchin, who has crafted a bill that establishes smart national standards based on the West Virginia law that has worked so well here.

The Freedom to Vote Act creates automatic online voter registration guidelines, early voting periods, firm voter roll maintenance requirements, and protects military ballots. Perhaps most importantly, the Manchin bill includes voter identification standards for in-person voting  — an unprecedented Democratic compromise on this issue.

The bill creates basic mail-in voting standards, a system that is essential for those who cannot make it to the polls because of work, medical, or family obligations. It also requires states to maintain paper records in case an audit is necessary. To fund those changes, Manchin spearheaded a new State Election and Innovation Fund that provides grants for state election officials so that county clerks have the resources they need.

Some critics have mistakenly described these measures as some kind of federal takeover of West Virginia elections. Not true. All this plan does is clarify and streamline some of the basic things all Americans can expect when it comes to voting. Besides, Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution clearly grants Congress a role in writing election laws.

Without this kind of baseline, partisan actors in major swing states could implement lax voting laws that are weak and unreliable. West Virginians certainly have an interest in making sure other states run national elections that are as good as ours. Otherwise, it would be too easy to have our voices drowned out on the national level.

Manchin was right to join Republicans in opposing HR 1, which was the Democrats’ original election reform bill and extremely unrealistic. He unified them behind a much more practical, targeted elections bill, full of reforms based on West Virginia’s great model.

Given that Manchin is advocating exactly what so many Republicans in West Virginia have supported in the past, it should be easy for Republicans to support.

Amanda Carpenter is the director of Republicans for Voting Rights, former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz and resides with her family in West Virginia.