West Virginia

In 2016, West Virginia became one of the few Republican leaning states to actually implement a pro-voting policy when it passed automatic voter registration (that bill passed with a restrictive voter ID law). This session, the legislature passed a bill related to West Virginia’s implementation of AVR. The bill (SB 491) unfortunately delayed the date for automatic voter registration to go into effect. AVR must now be in place by July 1, 2021 – after the next major election. West Virginia’s Secretary of State was granted authority to spend $1.5 million to assist county clerks with implementation. Things would be worse on the voter registration front if it were up to West Virginia Republicans. Two GOP legislators introduced legislation (HB 2910) that would completely eliminate automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration has been proven to increase voter registration and turnout – so Republicans who are scared of voters oppose it.

West Virginia passed another measure (HB 2362) to allow individuals confined due to disabilities, extreme old age, or illness to vote absentee. While states should allow all voters to vote absentee without an excuse, this will at least make voting more accessible for some West Virginia voters.

In a clear attempt to suppress the vote, Republican state Sen. Patricia Rucker introduced legislation (SB 91) that would restrict the ability of eligible voters to vote in West Virginia elections if they do not intend to remain in the state. This tactic of restricting who qualifies as a state resident has been used in other states to suppress the vote of college students. Any effort to disenfranchise citizens is dangerous for our democracy.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats introduced pro-democratic legislation. West Virginia Democrats introduced legislation (SB 429) to allow individuals who register to vote in-person to vote during the early voting period and introduced a bill (SB 236) to educate individuals with felony records of the restoration of their right to vote after completion of their sentence. Neither pro-voter measure advanced.

Democratic state senators and a bipartisan group of state delegates introduced bills to establish an independent redistricting commission (SB 118HB 2445), but the measures did not advance. Redistricting legislation in 2019 is extremely important as redistricting will take place after the 2020 census. The establishment of independent redistricting commissions should not be a political issue, as the measures simply ensure fair maps for all voters.