By Mac WarnerWest Virginia Secretary of State
While society is experiencing many challenges due to the pandemic, the Office of West Virginia Secretary of State is working closely with county clerks to ensure voters have every opportunity to safely participate in the June 9 Primary Election.
As a state, West Virginia leads the nation in offering the most options to vote. Options include in-person voting on Election Day, a 10-day early voting period, electronic absentee voting for certain eligible voters, and the expanded use of the excused absentee ballot process due to coronavirus concerns. Currently, my staff is multi-tasking to 1) help county clerks handle the huge volume of absentee applications and ballot delivery; 2) assist with poll worker training; and 3) prepare polling locations for safe in-person voting.
In previous elections, fewer than 3% of voters have participated by absentee. Using emergency authorities allowed because of the pandemic this year, clerks sent absentee applications to every registered voter; to date, more than 220,000 voters have requested absentee ballots. That is 18% of all registered voters in WV.
In addition to having the option to vote absentee by mail, voters with certain physical disabilities and people who fall under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act have the option to receive, mark, and return an absentee ballot by mail or electronically through a safe, accessible and secure web-based portal. WV was the first state to offer e-voting to deployed military in 2018, and WV now leads the nation in this option for voters with certain physical disabilities. Our legislature is to be commended for its unanimous, bipartisan support to enfranchise voters with such opportunities.
Voters do have the option to vote in-person during Early Voting, May 27 to June 6, and on Election Day, June 9. Together with our county clerks, we are making the health and safety of our poll workers, election officials, and voters Job One. Liberty Distributors, a WV family-owned company, is currently distributing face shields, masks, gloves, cleansing wipes, hand sanitizer, and other safety material to every county, and these items will be in place before the first day of Early Voting. Poll workers are training in best practices for keeping polling location and election equipment safe and sanitized.
Some counties are still in need of poll workers, and these are paid positions. If interested, please contact your county clerk to sign up, or to offer your services as an alternate for Election Day.
Though record numbers of voters are opting for absentee ballots, the majority of West Virginians still want to vote in person at a polling location. In-person voting is the most secure, private, and protected manner of voting, free of intimidation and undue influence. Recognized as the “gold standard,” in-person voting at polls supervised by bi-partisan poll workers who protect the integrity of our election processes and results should always be an option in elections.
Due to the increased potential for fraud in the expanded use of absentee ballots, my office is working tirelessly to deter all manners of election fraud. We have teamed with the U.S. Attorneys, FBI, State Police, and the Attorney General's Office to form an Election Anti-Fraud Task Force. We are serious about deterring, detecting, investigating, and prosecuting voter fraud. To report election law violations and suspicious activity, please call our toll-free tip line at 877-FRAUD-WV (372-8398).
West Virginia should be proud that it is leading the nation in ways to vote during these trying times. Providing so many options to the ballot box is a result of a great working relationship between my office, our county clerks, the West Virginia Legislature, other state agencies, and the public. The system we have in place is working well, it allows for maximum voter participation, and it is designed to maintain confidence in our election process. Together, let’s hold a safe, secure, and fair election during this difficult time.
Mac Warner is West Virginia's 30th Secretary of State and was elected in 2016.