By Donald “Deak” KerseyGeneral CounselOffice of West Virginia Secretary of State
Election fraud comes in many forms. Vote-buying, intimidation, ballot harvesting, and other political shenanigans amount to criminal activity and have no place in West Virginia elections.
Due to COVID-19 health concerns surrounding the June 9 Primary Election, absentee voting will be at an all-time high. More than ever, West Virginians must be vigilant to quickly identify and report suspicious election activities. Together, we can uphold the integrity and public confidence in the election processes and results by stopping bad actors who threaten our democracy.
Over the past three years, West Virginia election officials have worked hard to make voter rolls accurate, modernize election laws, and create continuity of operations plans to respond to all perceivable threats to our elections. These efforts set the stage for administering clean, fair, and secure elections.
The FBI, WV Secretary of State, WV Attorney General, WV State Police, and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are working together to identify, investigate, and prosecute election fraud (see the Statewide Election Fraud Task Force Announcement here). However, even with the superlative efforts of law enforcement, the best deterrence starts with attentive individuals who report what is happening in their local communities.
A few distinct fraudulent schemes have appeared throughout recent West Virginia history. Most common, perhaps, is vote-buying – the giving or promise of money or a thing of value in exchange for a vote. Another fraud is ballot harvesting, which occurs when someone gathers and submits absentee ballots without the voters’ consent. Watch out for anyone who monitors voters’ mailboxes or outright steals the absentee ballot. Additionally, a fraudster might place harvested ballots in the trash if the voter does not vote for, or is presumed to support, a different candidate than desired by the bad actor. If you see a ballot thrown away, you should report the incident immediately.
Additionally, voters should report to their county clerk if they do not receive their absentee ballot within a week of submitting an absentee application. The clerk will assess the situation and, when appropriate, issue a provisional ballot to the voter and disclose the irregularity for investigation.
Another form of election fraud is illegal assistance with voting, which is common among voters who are elderly or living with a disability. Illegal voting assistance is usually accomplished by a bad actor who appears at voters’ homes, senior living facilities, or nursing homes, and offers “friendly advice” with helping voters mark their ballots. Not only is this activity intimidating, but it is illegal if voters do not need or want assistance with voting. Detecting illegal assistance requires voters and concerned citizens to recognize the situation and report it.
Other election fraud includes absentee ballot application fraud, duplicate or deceased voting, and fake absentee ballot submissions. To detect these types of fraud, county clerks are closely monitoring, tracking, and reviewing every absentee application, ballot envelope, and voter record before processing a ballot. When applications and ballots are returned to county clerks, staff compare the absentee information and signature images with voters’ private registration records. Counties that identify more than one ballot submitted on behalf of a voter, duplicate ballot-stub numbers, or find that a ballot has been submitted under a deceased voter’s name, will challenge those ballots and report such to the appropriate authorities.
Coercion, intimidation, and voter suppression are more nefarious forms of election fraud. Whenever a citizen feels one of these has occurred, or feels uneasy in any voting situation, they should report the activity so it can be investigated. If you, a loved one, a friend, or a neighbor is contacted by someone expressing interest in your/their vote, please report the situation to our office.
West Virginia’s election officials have worked hard to safely, fairly, and securely administer the 2020 Primary Election. The phenomenal effort WV county clerks have given during these trying times is second-to-none. Our community can help protect the integrity of this election by quickly identifying and reporting bad actors and suspicious situations to the Secretary of State’s Office for quick correction, investigation, and prosecution.
To report election fraud, call the WV Secretary of State's Election Fraud toll-free hotline at 1-877-FRAUD-WV. A complaint form can also be downloaded from our website at wvsos.gov.
Deak Kersey is a native of Mercer County and a graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law.