CHARLESTON, W.Va. — All registered voters in West Virginia should start receiving postcards within the next week asking if they would like to request absentee ballots for voting in the Democratic or Republican primary elections which are now set for June 9.
“We kind of feel like we can breathe — for a moment,” said Linda Huggins, county clerk in Preston County and president of the West Virginia County Clerk’s Association.
Sending out the absentee ballot request cards on dates that’ll vary by county represented the next step in what has been an evolving situation for county clerks since this year’s primary season is coming at the same time the novel coronavirus is spreading.
On Wednesday, Governor Jim Justice announced he was using his emergency powers to push back West Virginia’s primary, originally scheduled for Tuesday, May 12, to Tuesday, June 9 because of the pandemic.
“It’s a tough situation to extend an election date. No one wanted to do that, but it has to be done,” Justice said at that time.
At first, the plan was for West Virginia to continue with the May 12 primary date with expanded absentee ballot options.
The additional absentee ballot options, under an interpretation of the law citing absentee ballot qualifications for health concerns, remained for the new June date.
“At the same there’s a stay-at-home order, we were asking people to come out and be poll workers and sit at a table all day in front of the public and it’s a hard position for the county clerks to be in,” Huggins said.
“The delay did give us a little bit of relief to hope that things will subside a little bit by then.”
Under the revised primary calendar, the deadline to register to vote is May 19.
In-person early voting at county courthouses, annexes or designated community voting locations was scheduled for normal business hours and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning on May 27 and continuing through June 6.
All absentee ballot applications have to be in by June 3.
“I think it would be a smart, wise decision to vote absentee ballot,” Huggins recommended.
In addition to scheduling poll workers for early voting and primary days, she and other clerks were also making staffing decisions for the tracking and counting of what were expected to be dramatically increased numbers of absentee ballots.
In Preston County, for example, Huggins said there were typically about 200 absentee ballots for an election.
Already this year, there have been that many requests for absentee ballots in a single day.
At the same time, courthouse hours were reduced while many normal operations continued, public access was limited and some staff members were home for reasons tied to COVID-19.
“It’s exhausting, it’s mentally exhausting especially if you have people in the office who aren’t here because of different scenarios,” Huggins said.
“It’s a fearful situation to be in and it’s the unknown is what is so fearful, so we’re just trying to be as safe as we can be.”