WV Secretary of State memo causes concern for county commissions - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV Secretary of State memo causes concern for county commissions

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When the storm hit, counties had a decision to make: keep their doors open for early voting, or close down for safety.

Now a controversy is brewing over a letter West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant sent to counties that said they would have to talk to her office  before shutting down a polling place.

Early voting was on par to break 2008 records. That was before Sandy came to town.

With driving conditions in some cases impossible, the call had to be made about what to do about early voting. In a number of cases early voting was shuttered.

On Monday, a letter was sent out to county clerks and commissioners. The county can shut down the courthouse, but immediately preceding an election, it's up to the Secretary of State.

"This is a relatively new law passed in 2008, said Patti Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, which represents county elected officials. "I'm not sure it's been used before."

And Hamilton is right. Never before has this law been used in early voting. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant says election day is the same as early voting, so she's within her right to decide when the polls are open.

"In an emergency, and an emergency has been declared; during voting, and voting is taking place during early voting, early voting is election day," Tennant said.

"In Kanawha County, where they didn't consider shutting down, receiving the letter was seen as usurping their power.

"Make no mistake, If we thought one person was going to get hurt or killed, we'd shut the courthouse down," said Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper.

There's no question: the law clearly says the state decides during or immediately preceding an election. After the election, this question could come up again.

"I'm not sure that this applied to early voting," Hamilton said. "I think that's something we have to work out after this one is accomplished and this is in the books."

Tennant also said she talked to the Association of Counties before she sent that letter out and was given full support.