A postal carrier in Pendleton County is accused of committing attempted election fraud by taking requests for Democratic absentee ballots and re-marking them as requests for Republican ballots.
Mail carrier Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork was charged with “attempt to defraud the residents of West Virginia of a fair election.”
The charge was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
The investigator was Bennie Cogar of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office and on behalf of the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office. Cogar swore an affidavit, which was included with the filing.
“Had Cooper’s conduct not been detected, it would have caused the Clerk to give Republican ballots to 5 Democrat voters — skewing the primary election by 5 votes and thereby defrauding all West Virginians of a fair election,” Cogar stated in the affidavit.
West Virginia expanded eligibility for absentee balloting this year as a precaution for the spread of coronavirus. Residents receive an absentee ballot request and then send it to their local clerk to receive an absentee ballot.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, in a statement distributed by his office, said it’s important to protect the integrity of the ballot box.
“Manipulating one’s absentee ballot or application is not a laughing matter – it’s a federal offense,” Morrisey stated.
“It is more important now than ever for voters to watch for unexplained or suspicious marks and/or any other irregularity with their ballot. If something looks suspicious, let us know right away.”
The investigation kicked off when workers in the Pendleton County Clerk’s office received eight absentee ballot requests forms that appeared to have been altered with a black pen.
Five had their requests for Democratic forms changed to Republican. In three more, there was no party switch but there were additional markings in black ink to underscore original requests made in blue ink by the voters for Republican ballots.
The clerk knew some of the voters with altered ballots were not Republican, Cogar stated in the affidavit, so she called them.
One, described only by the initials M.R., said four of his family members had requested Democratic ballots by underlining the word “Democrat” with blue ink.
His daughter is the postmaster in Onego, and he suggested a carrier might have tampered with the requests.
Additional requests from residents of Franklin, also in Pendleton County, had a similar experience, with original blue markings for “Democrat” changed with black ink to “Republican.”
Cogar and U.S. Postal Inspector Todd Phillips met April 27 with Cooper, who had been identified with a route matching the communities with the altered ballots.
The affidavit by Cogar indicates Cooper said “yes” to changing the ballots that had been mailed from the Onega post office.
Asked about altered ballots from other communities, Cogar wrote that Cooper responded, “I’m not saying no, [but] if it was on my route, I would take the blame.”
The investigator asked, “You were just being silly?”
Cooper, according to the affidavit, responded , “Yeah I [did it] as a joke… [I] don’t even know them.”