While 2020 will be remembered for its challenges, my office will always recall this year with pride in our accomplishments. When West Virginia voters blessed me four years ago to become Secretary of State (SOS), I employed top-notch managers energized to transform the office. For three years, we turned over rocks, reorganized the office, and made infrastructure investments. While we did not envision a pandemic, we made vast improvements that leveraged technology and stayed laser-focused on customer service. Because of the intense preparation, we did not miss a beat when the pandemic struck.
I highlight three functions to make my point: maintaining confidence in our elections; smooth transactions for business and licensing; and maintaining official records.
First, the best-known events under the scope of the Secretary of State’s Office of 2020 were the elections held under an emergency pandemic declaration. We are extremely proud that in the General Election more than 802,000 West Virginians voted – the second-highest in state history. West Virginia pulled off one of the most successful elections in the country, with high confidence in our results being accurately counted and reported on election night. Our success was due to the collective effort of every poll worker, staff member, county clerk, and voter who stepped up and participated in the process.
As to our office specifically, we were more prepared than ever. Well ahead of this year’s elections, we compiled and trained clerks on a Continuity of Operations Plan covering natural disasters, unintentional threats, and intentional threats. When the pandemic hit, we were ready; the pandemic was akin to a scenario for which we had trained. In fact, our success gave West Virginia national attention when I was invited to testify in front of the U.S. Senate about election preparations.
Other factors that led to such successful elections include recruiting thousands of poll workers, securing personal protective equipment, timely distribution of pandemic funding, creating an online system to request absentee ballots, and education campaigns about these changes. I am proud of how our county clerks, poll workers, the Governor’s Office, DHHR, the National Guard, and other state and federal partners worked together to provide safe options for West Virginians to participate.
Second, our office made it easier than ever to conduct business and licensing transactions with the government. To complement our Business One-Stop Center, we invested $1 million in a state-of-the-art online licensing system. This system allows for 24-hour online access to register, update and file for Notaries, Charitable Organizations, Professional Fundraisers, Private Investigators, Marriage Celebrants, Athlete Agents, Scrap Metal Dealers, Trademarks, and Apostilles. This system allows business owners to operate on their time, not just during office hours. The public also has greater access than ever before to view these filings online.
This year we added to our national recognition with our WV One-Stop Business Portal by winning “IT Innovation of the Year” from StateScoop, recognizing it as an innovative approach to cross-agency cooperation.
Third, a very significant section of the SOS office is our Administrative Law Division. Some of the Division’s work is purposely low-key as it administers the Address Confidentiality Program. But, the Division’s main work is to maintain records of all of the governor’s executive actions and to provide public access to those records. This has been an especially important responsibility during the pandemic, as the Governor declared a State of Emergency in mid-March, allowing state agencies to suspend rules when necessary. Our staff has worked diligently to keep track of these changes and ensure public access.
Truly, the advancements we made have positioned West Virginia to lead in the post-COVID world. We successfully navigated 2020, and in doing so, made it easier than ever to start and build a business in WV. We have demonstrated our ability to not just operate under pandemic situations but to thrive. Our recent launch in licensing is just one tangible example of this, allowing access to customers 24/7/365, and for our staff to complete all tasks regardless of where they are located.
When we look back on 2020, I invite all of West Virginia to join my office in a sense of pride as to how we attacked the year of the pandemic. By working together, we brought this challenging year to a successful conclusion, we preserved and maintained confidence in our democratic process, and we positioned our Mountain State for even greater success in the future. Bring on 2021!
By Mac Warner
West Virginia Secretary of State