CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The race for West Virginia Secretary of State in the general election pits two familiar faces against each other, the current and previous secretaries the state.
Current Secretary of State and Republican Mac Warner is on the ballot in November against former Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Warner unseated Tennant in a close 2016 general election 48.52 (335,526) to 46.82 (323,750).
Warner, born and raised in Kanawha County and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point told MetroNews he has transformed the office since taking over for Tennant.
As the chief elections officer, Warner said the transformation started with purging and updating the voter lists, removing over 190,000 names since 2016. According to his office, more than 115,000 outdated, duplicated, deceased, or convicted felon voter registrations were removed during the 2018 election.
Warner said he is also proud of the opening the West Virginia One Stop Business Center in Charleston to help an entrepreneur or business owner wanting to start a new business.
“We have transformed this office in so many ways, improved it and made a focus on customer service. We get calls, letters, emails, every week about how people commenting on how the office and has been transformed and better customer service,” Warner said.
Tennant, the North Marion and WVU grad who served the office from 2009-2017, has criticized Warner for not implementing an electronic, web-based business portal. She said Warner has made it more difficult for businesses to start in West Virginia, disregarding the portal that was created under a bill passed during her time in office.
Warner said her criticisms about making it harder on businesses could not be farther from the truth.
“We have won several national awards for the business one-stop program and the portal we have established making it easier than ever. Talk to business owners and you will see they recognize this. Talk to lawyers who have to serve process, they see it is easier,” Warner said.
In terms of elections, Tennant is also critical of Warner for not implementing an automatic voter registration. Legislation for automatic voter registration was passed in 2016 under Tennant but has yet to be implemented in the state.
She also said the state needs to follow the formula from the primary election, when absentee ballot applications were mailed to every West Virginia voter. Applications have not been mailed to every voter for the general election but Warner has rolled out an absentee ballot application portal for voters to apply online. Voters may also call their county clerks.
Three counties in the state, Ohio, Monongalia and Lincoln have decided to mail absentee ballot applications to voters in their county. Tennant said Warner is making it harder for citizens to vote by not mailing applications to every voter during the pandemic.
“There is a consensus that it was successful,” Tennant said of the primary election process in West Virginia. “Even Mac Warner says it was successful, he even said he had a moral obligation to send out those applications. What happened to his morals since then when we have more COVID cases and COVID deaths now, but yet he is not sending those out.”
The two candidates have participated in two debates and one of talking points for Tennant has been Warner’s firing of 16 employees from the office when he took over in 2017. She said it set the office’s progress back, broke employment laws and cost the state $4 million on his first day by taking those actions.
Warner had strong words for Tennant in during that period in 2017 on her actions around the transition of power, saying that Tennant sabotaged the transition.
Tennant told MetroNews she has picked up momentum in her campaign following the debates.
“Every time someone watches it, they will text me or they will put something on social media calling me the clear winner. ‘Natalie you are the clear winner, you have the facts, you have the knowledge, the experience, and you have a plan for moving again and moving forward,” she said.
Warner said that the debates showed two kinds of candidates.
“I answered the questions and responded to exactly what was asked. In many questions, she simply went negative and tried to attack me. If you are looking for nastiness, people may think she came out on top. But nastiness is not what the people of West Virginia want,” Warner said.
Warner said he plans to continue the work on the voter rolls, expand the business center and build relationships with county clerks if reelected.
“I love the job. I get up energized every day and I am often the first person in the office and the last person to leave at night. Not to brag but it’s just the realization that this is the right job for me at this time in my life,” he said.
Tennant said she would work to implement the online business portal, automatic voter registration, expand the business waivers for veterans and military spouses, and expand services online in her first weeks in office.
She is a familiar face on the ballot, falling in a U.S. Senate race in 2014 and in a Gubernatorial Democratic Primary in 2011. The general election date is November 3.