West Virginia was able to parlay $6.5 million of federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds into nearly $13 million of upgrades to voting systems around the state, including $11.4 million for new ExpressVote touchscreen voting systems, Secretary of State Mac Warner told the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday.
That means 64 percent of voters will be casting 2020 ballots on new voting machines, up from 16 percent in 2016, he said.
Warner said the office is preparing a new round of $4 million of HAVA matching grants, and said he leaves it to county commissions and county clerks to determine priorities in their funding requests.
“They know their greatest needs, so we’re allowing the counties to choose how to use that HAVA funding,” he said.
The Secretary of State’s office 2020-21 funding request is unchanged from the current budget year, and Warner said he has reduced the number of budgeted employees in the office from 62 to 52, with 48 full-time positions currently filled.
“I think we’re doing more with less, absolutely,” he said, saying the staff reductions is a combination of cross-training employees to handle responsibilities for multiple divisions, and by pushing staff to work harder.
In 2018, the state paid a total of $3.46 million in settlements and legal fees after Warner fired 16 longtime employees upon taking office. Twelve of those employees filed wrongful termination lawsuits, on the grounds that 15 of the 16 employees were registered Democrats, who were replaced with 22 employees, 19 of whom were registered Republicans.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, asked if legal fees for settling those cases were reflected in the roughly $160,000 of 2019 legal expenses.
Donald Kersey, office general counsel, said those costs were paid primarily by the Board of Risk and Insurance Management, and are not reflected in any 2018 or 2019 legal expenses for the office.
Kersey said the largest legal expense reflected in the report was about $89,000 in legal fees stemming from a 2018 ballot access lawsuit filed by coal magnate Don Blankenship, who unsuccessfully attempted to run in the 2018 general election for U.S. Senate as the Constitution Party candidate, after losing in the Republican primary for the same office.