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herald editorial - 1/30/02

January 31, 2002

Election reforms deserve another look



The West Virginia House this week gutted a package of Senate election reforms on the premise that an election year isn't a good time to change the voting process. However, few of the changes rejected by the House would confuse voters, so we recommend the two houses work out a compromise.

The Senate bill had proposed 14 changes, but the bill left the House Judiciary Committee with just two of those intact. One would allow counties to speed up the changeover to electronic ballot machines, while the other would eliminate a filing fee for write-in candidates.

Proposals eliminated include a new rule on how absentee ballots would be counted, a prohibition on candidates helping the disabled cast their ballots and the posting of election commission observers to polling places.

County clerks oppose the ballot-counting change, which would require that absentee ballots be counted only after the polls close. They apparently fear that absentee voting will dramatically increase because of a 2001 law which eliminates the need for voters to state why they're voting absentee.

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Judiciary Committee Chairman John Amores, D-Kanawha, said clerks told him that they want to count those ballots on Election Day afternoons before the polls close, so they can complete the tally faster.

That would save time for the clerks, but lengthen the day for political party observers and reporters covering the process. This is not a daily chore; if it takes some extra time on election night, that doesn't seem like a terrible burden.

The Senate prohibition on candidates helping the disabled vote also makes sense. The temptation to tamper is one office-seekers don't need.

But as for the proposal to put election commission observers at all polling places, we need to know whether these people would be paid staffers or unpaid volunteers and what additional expense, if any, would be involved. If the Senate believes there are some violations prompting this measure, it should say so. Absent that, the measure should be dropped.

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