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The secretary of state is one of the constitutional officers of West Virginia, who are elected statewide and whose positions are mandated in the state constitution. Elected every four years, the secretary of state serves with the governor, the superintendent of schools, and the four other constitutional officers on the Board of Public Works.

During its first session, the legislature provided that the secretary of state keep the state seal, preserve executive department records, and render such services ‘‘in the dispatch of the executive business’’ as the governor may require. The language of the code was taken directly from the Virginia general powers statute enacted in 1860.

Through the years, the legislature has given the secretary of state broader authority. Today, the office has two business divisions and four public divisions handling a variety of duties. Notably, the secretary of state is the state’s chief elections officer, responsible for maintaining the integrity of the electoral process. The secretary of state also serves as repository for corporation filings; administrator of the notary public application process; registrar and regulator of charitable organizations; process server for certain legal parties such as some out-of-state defendants; keeper of Uniform Commercial Code filings; archivist and clearinghouse for state administrative rules and regulations; and a partner with the Department of Education in promoting civics education. Other licensing requirements administered by the secretary of state include those for athletic agents, private investigators, ministers authorized to perform marriages, and newspapers certified to accept legal advertising.

West Virginia’s first secretary of state was Jacob Edgar Boyers, a Tyler County Republican. With three exceptions, the job has not been a stepping stone to higher office. William E. Chilton, secretary of state from 1893 to 1897, later served in the U.S. Senate; Jay Rockefeller held the post from 1969 to 1973 before his election as governor and later as U.S. senator; and Joe Manchin was elected governor in 2004 after serving one term as secretary of state. Two of West Virginia’s secretaries of state, William Smith O’Brien (1933–48) and Ken Hechler (1985–2001), were elected to four terms. In 2004, Betty Ireland became the first woman ever elected as secretary of state and the first woman elected to the executive branch of government. She declined to seek reelection, and Natalie Tennant was elected secretary of state in 2008 and reelected in 2012. In 2016, Tennant lost to Republican Mac Warner.

This Article was written by Larry Sonis

Last Revised on November 30, 2016

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Cite This Article

Sonis, Larry "Secretary of State." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 30 November 2016. Web. 23 November 2017.

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