Voters in at least eight West Virginia counties have been mailed “misleading and confusing” material that may make them incorrectly believe they aren’t eligible to vote in next month’s election, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said Tuesday.
The leaflets — mailed by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation — warn voters that if they do not update their voter registration, they may lose their right to vote in the upcoming primary election on May 13. The mailings included voter registration cards and prepaid return envelopes addressed to county clerks.
Tuesday was the last day to register to vote for the May 13 primary, and a Tennant spokesman said the mailing could convince people whose voter registrations are perfectly valid that they aren’t allowed to vote.
“We were concerned that people were reporting getting this leaflet [Monday and Tuesday],” said spokesman Jake Glance. “We are concerned, since [Tuesday was] the final day to change your registration to vote. We are particularly concerned about people who went to work in the morning, then got this mailing when they returned in the evening. Some opened their mail and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I missed the deadline to update my voter registration.’”
In a statement, Tennant said there are only three reasons voters need to update their registration: if they moved, if they changed their name, or if they want to change their party affiliation.
“If none of those apply, a citizen’s voter registration is still valid,” Tennant said.
Glance said the leaflets were mailed to registered voters in at least eight counties, including Berkeley, Jefferson and Marion.
Wendy McCuskey, state director for Americans for Prosperity, said Tuesday her group sent out the mailing.
“It was a nonpartisan effort. We identified people who are not registered to vote,” McCuskey said. “We wanted to encourage people who are not registered to participate in voting.”
The leaflet encourages residents to “update” their voter registration.
“As a good citizen who values their Constitutional right to vote, we are reminding you to update your voter registration. Updating your registration before the deadline ensures you do not lose your right to vote in the upcoming election,” the AFP leaflet states.
“Voter Registration deadline is April 22, 2014. Take 2 minutes right now to fill out the enclosed voter registration form. Fold and seal then mail back to your County Clerk. No postage is necessary,” the leaflet said.
“There may have been a few mistakes,” McCuskey said. “But we are identifying people who are not registered. It is pretty straightforward. Sometimes, voter files get messed up.”
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, based in Arlington, Va., started its West Virginia branch this year, and has been funding television ads attacking Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. The group is funded partly by brothers Charles and David Koch, who have donated millions of dollars to groups that oppose Democratic candidates.
Tennant, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, said county clerks are the only election officials that would legitimately contact voters about their registration information and stressed that a “legitimate contact” would never come from third-party organizations such as Americans for Prosperity.
“The Secretary of State’s Office did not send this mailer, and it did not come from county clerks. We don’t know what the purpose of the mailer is, but we do know that it is confusing citizens,” Tennant said.
Berkeley County Chief Deputy Clerk Bonnie Woodall, who handles voter registration in the county, said residents there were confused by the mailing.
“We had gotten seven calls, and had people coming to our office, who were very confused and duped,” said Woodall. “These leaflets were put out by Americans for Prosperity. They specialized leaflets for each county, which gave people the feeling they would not be able to vote if they did not fill these forms out and get them back to us by today.
“One lady just got home from work and saw it in her mailbox. She was a little frantic. I told her to throw it into the garbage,” Woodall said.
West Virginia citizens can check the status of their voter registration on the Secretary of State’s website at https://apps.sos.wv.gov/elections/voter /Default.aspx, or by calling their county’s voter registration office.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.