Election 2020

Voter ID Law Goes Into Effect in West Virginia, Mandatory Voter Registration Delayed

Voting booths in polling place [Getty Images]

On Tuesday, West Virginians go to the polls in the first big primary elections of 2018. This election will test a new voter ID law passed in 2016, and form the basis for the state’s mandatory voting registration which will come into effect in 2019. Expect Democrats to complain about this rule come November, as Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) faces a tough re-election battle.

For Tuesday forward, all voters must present identification before they can vote. At the polls, voters must present valid identification or have another registered voter state under oath that the person is who he or she claims to be.

There are 18 documents that constitute a valid voter ID under the law, however. Any state or federal government-issued identification card counts as valid, whether or not it has a photo, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

Valid IDs include driver’s licenses and passports, student IDs, Social Security cards, Medicare and Medicaid cards, concealed carry permits, and hunting and fishing licenses. A few nongovernment documents even count: bank cards, insurance cards, and bank statements, for example.

Even if a voter does not have any of these forms of identification, he or she can bring an adult to attest to his or her identity by signing an affidavit. The adult would have to verify he or she has known the voter for at least six months and provide his or her own valid photo identification.

The state arguably has the duty to make sure that every voter is a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote, but this voter ID proposal seems far too broad. What prevents a voter from giving his or her non-photo ID card to a non-voter?

Even so, Democrats are likely to interpret even this law as too stringent, patronizingly suggesting that black people would be less likely to acquire identification. In reality, it appears Democrats are most focused on their strategy of replacing U.S. citizen voters with immigrants who either came illegally or have not completed the legal process to become citizens and achieve voting rights.

The 2016 law goes beyond voter ID, however. On July 1, 2019, an automatic voter registration provision will come into effect. Unless a person specifically declines to do so, every person will be registered to vote when he or she obtains or updates his or her driver’s license or state identification cards.

A voter’s ability to receive an absentee ballot could be affected by the automatic registration process starting in the 2020 general election cycle. When a person mails an application to renew his or her license or identification, that person will be required to vote in person during the next election — and could not vote absentee.

Any West Virginian can avoid this requirement by renewing his or her license or identification in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles, rather than doing so by mail.

Many voters may decide to renew their licenses in person. A record number of West Virginians have already cast their ballots during early voting. Secretary Mac Warner said he saw a 51% increase compared to the last midterm election in 2014, CBS 13 News reported.

Sen. Joe Manchin faces one of the most difficult re-election battles this November. In recent years, West Virginia has swung powerfully from the Democratic to the Republican side of the ledger. In November 2008, 55 percent of West Virginia voters were registered Democrats, while only 30 percent were registered Republican. In that election, West Virginians voted for Republican John McCain by 56 percent. As of April 2018, only 43 percent of them were registered Democrats.

The state’s governor, Jim Justice, publicly walked over the aisle last year, becoming a Republican even though he won election as a Democrat. He announced his support for Manchin, but President Donald Trump remains very popular in the state. According to a Gallup poll last year, 61 percent of West Virginia residents approved of Trump’s job performance.

In the Republican primary, each candidate has bent over backwards to support Trump. In a debate, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship declared himself to be “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship only recently completed a yearlong jail sentence for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29. Blankenship is the primary’s outsider, and he has resorted to full attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch.”

U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are also competing for the GOP nod. A Fox News survey of likely GOP primary voters found Jenkins in the lead (25 percent), with Morrisey close behind (21 percent), and Blankenship in third with 16 percent. Even so, 24 percent still remained undecided.

Jenkins has touted his bona fides as a West Virginian, since Morrisey was not born in the state and bought a house there in 2006. Even when Morrisey filed to run for attorney general in 2010, he was working for a D.C. law firm.

Morrisey, the state’s first Republican attorney general since the 1930s, has attacked Jenkins for once being a Democrat. Jenkins only switched parties in 2013. Morrisey has received endorsements from Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with National Review.

West Virginia also has an interesting primary in the open 3rd Congressional District. Trump won that district by 49 points in 2016, but Manchin won it by 34 points in 2012, and a Democrat represented the district as recently as 2014. State Sen. Richard Ojeda has dramatically out-raised the Democratic field, and he has an inspiring origin story, being brutally beaten two days before the 2016 primary and surging to victory afterward. He won in a 78-19 Trump district in 2016. The GOP primary is more contested.

Two other U.S. Senate seats will have primaries Tuesday — Ohio and Indiana. In Ohio, U.S. Representative Jim Renacci will likely win the GOP primary to face Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in the fall. In Indiana, Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita have bitterly contested the GOP nomination to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Former state Rep. Mike Braun has also entered the race, spending almost twice as much as Messer and Rokita combined. The bloody primary will likely help Donnelly in November.

Important House primaries are also taking place in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Ohio Republicans and Democrats will also choose candidates in the race to replace Governor John Kasich. On the GOP side, Attorney General Mike DeWine faces a strong challenge from Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Democrats will choose between Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who has campaigned with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich — the same Kucinich who ran for president in 2004 and 2008 and who enjoys the endorsement of Bernie Sanders group Our Revolution.

Among all of this, West Virginia’s voter ID law will face its first challenge, and Democrats will be on the lookout for voters turned away from the polls. Likely, the voter ID practices will prove broad enough that no voter will be turned away, so any Democrat complaints should prove quite revealing.