CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Secretary of State Mac Warner says it’s possible as many as one-third of the voters in the June 9 Primary Election will do so by mail-in ballot.
All voters can apply for a mail-in ballot because of the pandemic and so far Warner tells MetroNews the state’s county clerks have received 181,861 applications for ballots, 163,219 ballots have been mailed out and already 46,501 completed by voters and returned to the clerks.
Warner said the 2016 presidential primary in West Virginia had a 40 percent voter turnout, approximately 495,000 voters. He said the nearly 182,000 mail-in ballots requested represents more than one-third of the 2016 total.
Warner believes most all of the ballots will be completed and returned.
“If somebody goes to the trouble of requesting a ballot there’s probably a 90 percent chance or more they are going to return that ballot. That’s the Wisconsin experience,” Warner told MetroNews Wednesday referring to the recent primary election in Wisconsin.
Thousands of applications coming in
All West Virginia registered voters received applications for ballots from their county clerks after Gov. Jim Justice moved the primary from May 12 to June due to the coronavirus. Information from Warner’s office shows applications have been received from voters in all 55 counties. County clerks in Monongalia, Berkeley and Kanawha counties have received more than 10,000 applications each.
Warner said the clerks have to have a voter’s application in hand by the June 3 deadline. Voters have until election day, June 9, to mail back their ballots. It’s possible there will be thousands of votes counted after election day, leaving races undecided, Warner said.
The 55 county clerks offices have been busy places, Warner said, who has visited a few of them himself in recent days.
“Both applications were going out, applications are coming in. Ballots were going out and ballots were coming in,” Warner said. “They’ve done a wonderful job catching up to the workflow.”
Clerks can begin processing the mail-in ballots when the 10-day early voting period begins May 27. They can begin checking their validity and sorting them by precinct but they can’t be counted until the polls close on election night, Warner said.
“So nobody at the courthouse should have early indications of who voted for who or who’s leading or that sort of thing,” Warner said. “That actual tabulation and reporting of those votes won’t happen until 7:30 p.m. on June 9.”
Recruiting poll workers a challenge
The clerks are also working to recruit and train poll workers in the middle a pandemic.
An executive order concerning the election from Justice allows county clerks to combine precincts if they determine they’ll have fewer than three poll workers. Warner said he hopes all 1,723 precincts are open on election day but realizes that may not be the case.
“You may have some clerks making those decisions now to combine precincts,” he said.
Warner said the most reliable place to get information about precincts is from the county clerk or his office.
There have been some concerns expressed about possible fraud with so many mail-in ballots. Warner wouldn’t say Wednesday if there have been reports of fraud. He did say the state has more investigators than ever.
“We’ve got them spread across the state so they can respond quickly to complaints. I’m asking every citizen in West Virginia to be our eyes and ears out there if they see anything suspicious,” Warner said.