By Mac Warner
West Virginia Secretary of State
West Virginia’s Primary Election is well underway; 143,910 voters (12% of all registered voters) have already cast absentee ballots, and Early Voting started May 27. Not since 1863 when West Virginia voted to separate from Virginia have we experienced such a unique election. Two factors make this election exceptional: (1) health concerns over COVID-19, and (2) the increased use of absentee voting.
Over the last six weeks, my office has worked with our media partners to educate everyone on the COVID-19 pandemic election process. Job one is to protect the safety of every voter and the 9,000 poll workers staffing the 1,700 state precincts. We have organized with the clerks for every polling location to have plenty of Personal Protective Equipment for poll workers, and all necessary suggested health guidelines will be followed. People should be comfortable and confident with going to vote in person throughout West Virginia.
The threat of COVID-19 opened the absentee process to every eligible voter. By working with our 55 county clerks, we informed people how to vote by absentee ballot and sent all 1.2 million WV registered voters ballot applications to use if they chose to do so. The use of the process has been in-line with the response to COVID-19 and the stay at home orders – over 250,000 people have submitted absentee applications while delaying the election to June 9 has given the clerks time to prepare for the increased volume.
I am also proud that West Virginia offers more options to vote than any state in the union. With the unanimous support of our Legislature, WV became the first state to allow voters with certain physical disabilities to join our military and overseas citizens to use the option to vote a secret ballot electronically without assistance. This level of preparation for accessible voting is paramount to any other state.
At the same time, as we expand opportunities for absentee balloting and voting away from the protections of a polling location due to the pandemic, the risk for election fraud increases. Therefore, our office stepped up anti-fraud efforts and initiated an election integrity education campaign. I was proud to join the WV Attorney General, State Police, FBI, and U.S. Attorneys to form the Election Fraud Task Force. One of the most effective ways to deter fraud is to aggressively prosecute illegal activities, and the Task Force is poised to do just that.
In fact, earlier this week, a Pendleton County resident was charged with eight counts of election fraud relating to absentee ballots. Thanks to the alertness of County Clerk Elise White and Deputy Clerk Kennedy Byers, this matter was quickly handled by the Task Force. Attorney General Senior Investigator Bennie Cogar and Postal Inspector Todd Phillips obtained a confession that was then presented to U.S. Attorney Bill Powell for prosecution. The quick, multi-agency cooperation ensured that no actual votes were affected.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is June 3rd, and in-person Early Voting takes place now through Saturday, June 6th. Election Day voting is from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
For additional election information, visit GoVoteWV.com. You can also call our Elections Division at (304) 558-6000. To report a possible election law violation, please call 877-FRAUD-WV (372-8688). Our county clerks have done a magnificent job preparing for this election and are ready to provide WV voters a safe and secure Primary Election.