Democrat Natalie Tennant’s record as Secretary of State in West Virginia is raising concerns about her U.S. Senate candidacy as Republicans eye the open seat as a potential pickup in the midterm elections this fall.
Tennant is running to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), who held the seat for 29 years. Polls will close Tuesday evening in the party primaries for the race.
Tennant’s campaign has been plagued so far by accusations that she mismanaged several routine election procedures for the secretary’s office. Local county clerks most recently expressed concerns that Tennant’s office was late in sending voter labels that are used to update voter registrations to the clerks.
Clerks’ offices are supposed to receive the labels from the secretary’s office beginning in October. The offices are then required to send confirmation notices to voters who appear to have moved by the end of December, according to state and federal election laws.
However, some clerks said they did not receive their labels until March or even April, according to reports.
Jeff Waybright, clerk for Jackson County in the western part of the state, said in an interview that his office did not receive the labels until the end of March. That will force his office to wait until after Tuesday’s primary to send out the roughly 5,000 address confirmations for the county.
"It really didn’t give us time to get ready for the upcoming primary," he said.
Waybright said the delay had not happened before and that the secretary’s office had not contacted him to explain what the problem was.
Errors on the secretary’s website also reportedly forced dozens of candidates to report their finances late or by mail ahead of the primary.
A spokesperson for Tennant did not respond to a request for comment.
Tennant’s office has said that some counties did not respond to the state’s initial survey about voter registration changes for this election year in a timely manner. The office was also hampered by a 90-day period beginning in February before the primary in which no ineligible voters can be removed from the rolls, it said.
The local clerks responded that the secretary’s office should have pressed the other ones who were late and not punished the rest of them.
Tennant’s office was also criticized in 2012 for a primary election ballot error involving the number of Republican delegates that cost state taxpayers more than $200,000 to fix. Additionally, her office failed to meet a three-month deadline that year for publicizing a proposed constitutional amendment in state newspapers.
Brian Savilla, Tennant’s Republican opponent at the time for the secretary position, said her office had failed to follow guidelines in the state constitution.
"She acts like it’s no big deal," Savilla said. "I mean, the constitution is kind of a big deal. So we need to have somebody in there who is going to follow that, actually have a calendar, and, crazy thought, actually look at that calendar."
Waybright, who has been serving in his county clerk office for about 20 years, said all secretaries make some mistakes when they first serve in the position. However, the office under Tennant has stood out because they made "high-dollar mistakes," he said.
"In my office if my staff makes mistakes, and we don’t proof something right, or we send a ballot out there that’s not proofed, it doesn’t go back on them, it stops with me," he said. "And that’s the way the secretary of state’s office should be."
Tennant acknowledged in 2012 that her office had made the errors but said it had worked swiftly to correct them and disseminate information to voters.
Tennant was also criticized for not doing more to prevent the candidacy of Keith Judd, a federal inmate who won more than 40 percent of the votes in the 2012 Democratic primary against President Barack Obama.
Tennant is expected to face Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va) in the general election for the Senate seat this fall. Capito is leading Tennant by more than double digits in some recent polls, according to Real Clear Politics.
Republicans need six net Senate seats to retake the majority in the chamber.