GOP challenger criticizes Tennant on election fraud
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Republican candidate for West Virginia secretary of state said Monday that incumbent Natalie Tennant is taking too much credit for the spate of election-fraud convictions in Southern West Virginia in recent years.
On the campaign trail, Tennant has said her office has investigated more fraud cases than any previous secretary of state.
But Brian Savilla, her GOP opponent, said Tennant's office has done little to combat election fraud. The U.S. Attorney's Office has done the bulk of the work, he said.
"They're handling the work for a statewide office," said Savilla, a former Putnam County substitute teacher who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2010. "She's fallen extremely short."
Savilla, who met with Gazette editors Monday in Charleston, said Tennant has reduced the number of election-fraud investigators from three to one. Tennant's office doesn't always investigate complaints effectively, he alleged.
In January, Lincoln County voters notified Tennant's office that former county Assessor Jerry Weaver was running for sheriff, even though he had been convicted of vote-buying in 2005.
Tennant did nothing to keep Weaver's name off the ballot, Savilla said. Weaver later withdrew from the sheriff's race. Tennant has said she had no authority to keep Weaver out of the race.
"If you talk to people in Lincoln County, they had no success with her office," Savilla said.
Savilla said he would hire Putnam County assistant prosecutor Steve Connolly as his chief of staff to bolster election fraud investigations and convictions.
On other issues, Savilla said he strongly supports voter identification laws. He said future voter registration cards in West Virginia should include photos to stop someone from "pretending to be someone else and casting a vote."
"It wouldn't disenfranchise anyone," Savilla said. "It would be a quick, simple fix."
He declined to say how the state would pay for photo IDs or estimate the cost of such a program. In West Virginia, voters must present a photo ID when they first register -- or the first time to vote after they register by mail.
Savilla said he opposes proposals for voting by Internet and mail and same-day voter registration.
"[Internet voting] is absolutely a terrible idea," Savilla told Gazette editors. "We're taking something and running with it, when we don't need to run with it."
Savilla also criticized Tennant for a "long history of decision-making challenges where she's fallen short."
Savilla said Tennant's office should not have allowed former Sen. Frank Deem, R-Wood, on the May primary ballot. The state Supreme Court ordered Deem off the ballot because state election law prohibits having more than one state senator from one county in multicounty state Senate districts. Tennant has said it was up to the courts to decide Deem's eligibility.
Savilla also criticized Tennant for "doing nothing" to prevent future cases of convicted felons appearing on the statewide presidential ballot, as inmate Keith Judd did in the Democratic primary for president. Tennant has said that Judd met all legal requirements to secure a spot on the ballot.
Savilla said West Virginia should follow Virginia's lead and require signatures for presidential candidates.
"We don't need to make it overly difficult, but we do need to make sure there's a safeguard," he said.
If elected, Savilla said he would cut management positions in the secretary of state's office, but he declined to give an exact number.
"It will be a significantly smaller office, but more productive," Savilla said. "I don't need as many helpers as she needs."
Savilla, who spent the past two years in the Legislature as a member of the minority party, said he didn't have many accomplishments to talk about.
But Savilla said he was proud to spark a debate on school discipline, after he introduced a bill to restore corporal punishment in schools. The bill went nowhere. West Virginia outlawed paddling in schools in 1994.
"It started a discussion," Savilla said. "My goal in life is to get people to think."
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.