Over the past three years, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office has touted the removal of thousands of voter registrations it says are old or otherwise inactive.
The statewide purge of inactive voter registrations took out more Democratic registrations than Republican ones, both in terms of percentage and in overall numbers of voters removed, according to a Gazette-Mail analysis of numbers provided by Warner’s office. In several counties, the gap between the percentage of Democratic and Republican registrations removed exceeded 10 percent.
Officials with the Secretary of State’s Office were adamant the office’s Elections Division does not look at voter rolls from a partisan perspective. They said the numbers may reflect the increasing trend of West Virginia voters to register as Republican or unaffiliated with any party, so older Democratic registrations for state voters could become inactive over time.
They also ruled out any possibility that county clerks in the counties with large disparities had singled out a particular party, or particular precincts, for purging.
“Number one, it’s a crime. Number two, we monitor the counties to make sure the counties aren’t doing something contrary to West Virginia or federal law,” said Donald Kersey, general counsel in the Secretary of State’s Office.
When county clerks get lists of inactive voters from the Secretary of State’s Office, those lists do not include party affiliation, Kersey said.
Warner’s office has instructed county clerks to remove voter registrations of people who have died, moved or been convicted of a felony. In addition, a voter who is sent a "confirmation card" and then doesn't vote in the next two federal general elections or take other action to update their registration can be removed from the rolls.
According to data from the Secretary of State’s Office, 92,749 Democratic registrations were purged in the most recent biennial sweep, or 16 percent of total Democratic registrations. By comparison, 51,498 Republican registrations, or 13 percent of their total, were removed. All told, 188,999 registrations were purged statewide across all parties, or 15 percent of the total number of voters registered as of the end of 2016.
In eight counties, the variation between Democratic and Republican registration removed was much wider, ranging from 7 percent to 11 percent. (Many of those counties have relatively small populations, so percentages can swing more easily).
In Grant County, Republicans outnumbered Democrats nearly five-to-one at the end of 2016, as Warner took office. Since then, 24 percent of Democratic registrations have been removed, compared to 13 percent of Republican registrations.
In Ritchie County, which had more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats when Warner took office, 33 percent of Democratic registrations — one in three — have been purged, compared to 22 percent of Republican registrations.
Ritchie was one of seven counties where between 26 percent and 33 percent of Democratic registrations were purged. Each of those counties also saw between 21 percent and 26 percent of Republican registrations purged.
Those counties — Calhoun, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Monroe, Ritchie, Roane and Wetzel — have relatively small populations. Kersey and Brittany Westfall, director of the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, said those percentages likely represent challenges faced by county clerk’s offices with small staffs to quickly address backlogs of inactive registrations.
“It’s hard for one person to look at thousands of names on a list, and confirm that person needs a [voter] confirmation card,” Kersey said.
Other counties with large variations between the percentages of Democratic and Republican registrations purged include:
- Clay County, 19 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of Republicans.
- Doddridge County, 22 percent of Democrats, 14 percent of Republicans.
- Greenbrier County, 28 percent of Democrats, 21 percent of Republicans.
- Hampshire County, 29 percent of Democrats, 22 percent of Republicans.
- Monroe County, 31 percent of Democrats, 24 percent of Republicans.
Four of those counties — Doddridge, Grant, Hampshire and Ritchie — purged significantly more Democrats than Republicans despite having Republican majorities at the end of 2016.
On the other hand, nine counties had variations of 1 percent or less between the percentages of Democratic and Republican registrations removed from the rolls. They are:
- Gilmer County, 8 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
- Jefferson County, 12 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of Republicans
- Mason County, 9 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
- Monongalia County, 8 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
- Pleasants County, 9 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
- Randolph County, 8 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
- Tucker County, 7 percent of Democrats, 6 percent of Republicans
- Wirt County, 5 percent of Democrats, 5 percent of Republicans
- Wood County, 9 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
No county had a higher percentage of Republicans purged than Democrats.
Westfall said the percentages of registrations removed can vary greatly among counties, since some counties have delays in moving registrations to inactive status, delaying the countdown of two missed election cycles for removal from the rolls.
“There’s no other reason for counties to have such a difference,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kersey has advice for everyone planning to vote in the 2020 elections: “Go to www.govotewv.com and check your registration to make sure you’re on the records.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the reasons that a voter's registration can be removed from voting rolls.