Education, Elections, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

House passes bill to make illegal voting a felony; Senate sends controversial school board bill back to Education Committee

MORGANTOWN — The House of Delegates on Thursday approved a bill aimed at ensuring clean elections; and the Senate booted a problematic school board bill that had been up for passage back to committee for retooling.

HB 4311 is the voting bill. It makes it a felony to vote more than once in an election — either within the state of West Virginia and another state — or to attempt to vote when not legally entitled. House Judiciary vice chair Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said under questioning both are already misdemeanors.

The bill also makes it a felony to reject a valid vote, admit an illegal vote or alter a ballot.

Delegate Mike Pushkin asked Fast if there were any reported instances of people voting more than once. Fast said they’d heard testimony to that in committee but Pushkin, who serves on Judiciary, said he didn’t recall hearing anything like that.

“If the intent is restoring people’s faith in their elections, I’m for that,” he said. But with some anger in his voice, he made reference to a picture that’s circulated on social media showing Secretary of State Mac Warner participating in a demonstration holding a “Stop the Steal” sign and said the secretary refraining from such things might do more to restore faith.

Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, asked if a convicted person out on parole or probation who attempts to vote, not knowing they can’t, would be guilty of a felony, or if a county clerk who approved that person’s registration would be guilty.

Fast said that the words “knowingly and willingly” throughout the bill, would apply and honest mistakes aren’t covered.

Young wasn’t totally convinced. “I’m just worried we’re going to imprison our county clerks,” she said.

Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, referred to a 2012 news report from Lincoln County where the then-sheriff and clerk pleaded guilty to flooding the Democratic primary with 300 fraudulent ballots. These things do occur, he said.

“Bring back fairness to our elections,” he said.

Despite the doubts expressed, the bill passed 94-0 and goes to the Senate. Locally, Delegates Barbara Evans Fleischauer and John Williams, both D-Monongalia, were absent.

SB 227 is the school board bill that met with opposition on Wednesday when it was up for passage. It deals with the powers of the state schools superintendent to require local school boards to comply with state laws or state board instructions.

The bill adds to the superintendent’s powers the right to approve all board meeting agendas, attend or send a designee to attend all board meetings, and approve all county-level expenditures.

Education vice chair Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, said Wednesday the bill is intended of offer a series of intermediate steps for a superintendent before the state board takes the county board to court, withholds money from the county or takes over operation of a county’s schools.

But opponents countered that the bill simply usurps local control and inserts the superintendent into the business of the local board.

Members agreed Wednesday to delay action on the bill for a day. On Thursday, they agreed to send it back to the Education Committee for further work. Hallway conversation indicated there’s hope they may be able to reword it to make it more agreeable to all.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp