The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 17, 2009

Proposal allows unlimited early voting satellite offices

By Mannix Porterfield

CHARLESTON — A question of money delayed action Monday on a Senate proposal seeking an unlimited number of satellite offices to accommodate early voters in the far reaches of large counties.

Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, led the Senate Judiciary Committee to put the bill on hold until the fiscal issues are resolved.

In another move, the panel agreed to send out a bill pushed by Gov. Joe Manchin to obligate other industries to report “significant” accidents within 15 minutes or face a potential $100,000 fine.

Chafin pointed out that each voting place must be represented by at least two people from both major political parties, along with an overseer.

At the current pay scale, he noted, that could run up a sizable bill for some counties, depending on how many branch offices are allowed.

What’s more, in some counties, such as Fayette, where Democrats hold a tremendous edge in registration, Republican poll workers are tough to round up.

“From what I read, it’s very difficult to get poll workers,” Sen. Frank Deem, R-Wood, told Chafin. “Will this exacerbate the problem?”

Chafin agreed it could pose an additional election headache, so, after more than an hour of wrangling, and mulling over a flurry of amendments, the Senate panel agreed to let SB314 lie over.

“What you have right now is one location inside each county where a person goes to for early voting,” said Pat Cadle, a lobbyist for the County Clerks Association of West Virginia.

“Not everybody in that county is taking advantage of this because they don’t get to the county seat often on a regular basis.”

Cadle said his group simply wants to “open up the process to make it more accessible.”

But some senators had strong reservations about the potential for fraud and abuse by political parties.

One of them, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, tried to amend the bill to impose a two-satellite limit — a change that prompted opposition from both Sens. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, and Richard Browning, D-Wyoming.

His amendment failed on a rare 8-8 tie, but Stollings managed to insert a small phrase dealing with fraud in the bill.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com