West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant
Natalie Tennant was first elected to the secretary of state office in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. She was defeated for a third term by Republican Mac Warner.
Prior to her election she was a television reporter and co-owner of a video production company. She is a 1991 graduate of West Virginia University and was the first woman ever chosen to serve as the school’s mascot in 1991
While things went smoothly in West Virginia on Election Day, obviously things didn’t go how you had anticipated. How do you feel about your time in office coming to an end?
Obviously I am disappointed that my time as West Virginia Secretary of State is coming to an end. There were so many more things I wanted to do over the next four years in terms of cutting-edge technology, really polishing and honing ideas like online ballot delivery, continuing to promote our online businesses services, and enhancing our business portal for businesses in West Virginia. So, it is disappointing.
And this transition has obviously been a challenging time, but I am proud of what we've done for the incoming administration. I vowed that I would allow someone coming in after me to have a proper transition because I did not receive a proper transition period when I came in. We have been professional, consistent and transparent. I have appointed one person to be our point person for the transition and she has been professional, while knowing she was training a person who would be taking her job. But I look at this transition the same way as we've conducted ourselves over the last eight years -- it was always about the people of West Virginia and offering excellent customer service while giving forward-thinking ideas and initiatives that led the country.
What would you say has been the biggest change you have seen in elections during your tenure?
In my tenure as Secretary of State there have been many big changes in elections. We were the first in the country to have an online pilot project for internet voting for deployed military and overseas citizens. It was a successful pilot project that was safe and secure, and accepted and appreciated by our deployed military. Even though it is not continuing, it has given the elections industry an opportunity to have discussions and debates about what we can do online. I'm proud to say that West Virginia led the way in that during my administration.
The pilot project led to online ballot delivery for our deployed military members. I see this method and process as a way that we can expand and enhance access, perhaps for veterans who may be at a VA hospital or as a way for disabled American veterans to be able to receive their ballot. Then we can continue that and grow it to college students who are living out of state or away from their home county.
And then, of course, online voter registration has made a huge impact in West Virginia and that has set the foundation for automatic voter registration because of the forward-thinking in the process is that we put in place.
What was the most difficult time/issue you have faced (elections wise of course) as secretary?
In some cases, what was a difficult time was convincing other people of how important modernizing elections is. And it was in convincing some county clerks, not all of them, how important it is and how the people of West Virginia and of this country deserve to have the most modern process and the easiest accessibility. And I found that during the online voter registration process that there were a few county clerks who did not want to implement it. Online voter registration is almost passé because every state in the country is going to have it over the next couple of years and it shouldn't have taken such struggle to convince a few county clerks how important it was and how much voters deserve it.
What do feel was your greatest accomplishment and why?
I don't have one initiative that is my greatest accomplishment. We have pushed forward and accomplished so many things. Whether it's in the elections division with pilot program for online voting with our military, online ballot delivery, online voter registration or our automatic voter registration. It is all of the accomplishments together that make the greatest accomplishment for the office. Because the greatest accomplishment comes in the fact that the employees believed in what I was saying, believed in my vision and believed that they could accomplish what I had expected of them. That's what is an accomplishment for me. That I had developed employees who come back to me and said I think we can do this or I think this is a great idea or I've been asked to sit on a national panel of experts because of what we're doing in West Virginia. That's the accomplishment that I see.
What will you miss most about being secretary of state?
I will miss everything about being Secretary of State. I will miss the challenges. I will miss the opportunities to work with a group of very smart, dedicated and willing individuals in the Secretary of State's office. I will miss seeing citizens of West Virginia who I know that we've helped because we took risks and tried services and processes that ended up benefiting West Virginians.
As an expert in the field of elections, where do you see the administration of elections headed?
As an expert in the field of elections, I see the administration of elections continuing to move forward. As states continue to embrace online voter registration and automatic voter registration they need to see that this is important for the voters. And they will have to be administrators and Secretaries of State who will continue to push forward and say that these important processes are not allowed to sit stagnant. Voters deserve to have modernized elections. We have modernization all around us in our daily lives and elections should not be any different.
What’s next for you, besides being able to sleep in on election days?
I love to get up early on Election Day and help wake up the citizens of West Virginia and the voters with live television interviews and really show that it's an exciting day to be a part of. I am looking into opportunities where I am able to use my election experience and my executive-level expertise to continue to create forward-thinking initiatives that will help West Virginians and this country.
Any parting words of advice for your successor?
I would suggest to my successor that he continue on the initiatives that we've started here in the Secretary of State's office. I believe that he should honor and respect those individuals who work in this office who have been a huge part of making positive changes. I think that facts are very important -- being truthful, honest and transparent should be paramount in state government and that can come from the top.