Charleston, W. Va. – This week, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner participated in an international conference call with election officials from Tel Aviv to discuss how Israel secured record voter turnout in its recent national election conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Warner was invited to participate as the co-chair of the Elections Committee of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS).
Participating alongside the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Project Interchange, Warner and other NASS members spoke with Israeli Central Elections Committee Director General Orly Adas and Chief Legal Counsel Dean Livne. Adas and Livne explained that Israel does not have early voting and does not permit vote-by-mail. Yet, they made voters feel safe with masks, gloves and other protective measures, all of which contributed to the highest voter turnout in Israel since 1999.
Of particular interest to Warner was Israel’s approach to in-person voting by people who had tested positive for the virus. Dual tents were erected side-by-side in parking lot locations. The tents had plastic windows that allowed poll workers to check voter identity as well as observe the voting process, but maintain a protective barrier for health considerations. “It was an innovative approach that we could use in the U.S. should the virus reemerge in a drastic way in November,” Warner said, “but, I don’t expect that to happen in West Virginia.”
This week Warner also participated in conference calls with election officials around the United States, each of whom are running or have run their state’s primary elections this spring. “These calls allow us to gather lessons learned from around the country, and bring the best practices to West Virginia. We are now implementing ideas on poll worker recruitment, safety procedures, and product acquisition/distribution that worked in other locations, and that is increasing efficiency here in West Virginia,” Warner said.
Warner is an international lawyer by trade, having served as the Chief of International Law for U.S. Army Europe during the Bosnia crisis. “Setting up free and fair elections is absolutely critical to re-establishing the rule of law in challenged societies,” Warner noted. “So, running elections in challenging times such as this is something that allows me to use my Army experience.”
In his role as co-chair of the NASS Elections Committee, Warner took part in a U.S. delegation that visited Israel last year. The bipartisan delegation met with Israeli officials to discuss cy-bersecurity policies and practices at the state, local, and federal levels as those relate to business services and election administration. Israel was amid an unprecedented election year that had already featured two national elections in one year, and was facing a third in just a few more months. Participants were eager to learn from one another, and vigorous discussions often went late into the night. “Our elections are completely different,” Warner noted, “but our mutual dedication to transparent democracy are lockstep with one another.”
Last month, Warner worked with county clerks to distribute information to WV’s 1.2 million registered voters on how to vote absentee should someone be concerned about the safety of voting in-person. In previous West Virginia elections, 97% of participating voters did so in-person. “West Virginia now has more options for voters to use in the June 9th Primary than any other state, but the majority of people will still vote in-person,” Warner said. “Now our focus is to ensure the health and safety of voters and poll workers alike.”
“Israel demonstrated that a ‘vote in-person’ election can be conducted amid the coronavirus pandemic, and even produce record-setting participation numbers,” Warner said. “Similarly, Nebraska just held its Primary on May 12th, and every precinct was open. Life goes on even during a pandemic, and West Virginia is applying best practices from around the globe.”
“The safety of our voters and poll workers is job one. We want West Virginia voters to know that they can safely vote in person during early voting May 27th through June 6th and on election day, June 9th” Warner said.
Founded in 1904, NASS is the oldest, nonpartisan professional organization of public officials in the U.S. Membership is open to the 50 states and all U.S. territories. NASS serves as a medium for the exchange of information between states and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy.
ABOUT AJC Project Interchange
For over 35 years, AJC Project Interchange (American Jewish Committee) has brought 6,000 influential figures to Israel from 110+ countries and all 50 U.S. states, offering broad exposure and first-hand understanding of the complex issues facing Israel and the region. www.projectinterchange.org