Justice casts doubt on widespread absentee balloting in W.Va. General Election

Gov. Jim Justice cast doubt today on expanded absentee voting because of the coronavirus pandemic for the General Election, Nov. 3.

“From the standpoint of absentee, I think what we’re going to do is go back to the way we were,” Justice said, meaning prior to the pandemic.

West Virginia officials delayed the Primary Election by a month and then opened up absentee balloting to anyone who said they were affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.

Those actions took place through the governor’s State of Emergency order, which went into effect on March 16 and has not been lifted.

On the day of the emergency order, West Virginia had no confirmed coronavirus cases.

On March 18, the day widespread absentee voting was confirmed, West Virginia reported two confirmed cases.

By May 12, the date the election was supposed to take place originally, there were 477 active cases.

By the new date of the General Election, June 9, there had been 613 active cases.

Now, according to the state health department, there were 1,480 active cases in West Virginia.

Justice acknowledged today that the coronavirus could dictate again what happens with the election.

“I want everybody to have an opportunity to vote, that’s for sure,” the governor said.

But he placed more emphasis on the possibility of fraudulent balloting, which has been emphasized repeatedly by Justice’s friend and political ally, President Donald Trump.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University concluded there is no evidence that mail balloting increases electoral fraud.

That’s because of anti-fraud protections built into the process such as requiring people requesting absentee ballots to be registered voters, mailing ballots to the official address listed on voter registration rolls, requiring voter signatures on the external envelope and having election authorities make sure the ballot came from the address of an actual voter.

An advisory panel the president created in 20187 to investigate election integrity did not find evidence of widespread voter fraud.

“From the absentee standpoint, we’ve got to know this — we’ve got to know there is a ripe ability for people to fraudulently do things with absentee ballots. We know that,” Justice said.

“And I would much rather everyone would have the opportunity to come to the polls, and everything. But we’re reviewing that now. We’ve met with the AG’s office; we’ve met with the Secretary of State’s office. They’re working on it, and everything. And they’re going to come out with the plans we need to have.”

During the Primary Election, West Virginia residents were mailed applications for absentee balloting.

The state wound up with 262,503 requests filed for absentee ballots.

There were 224,777 used to cast votes.

Secretary of State Mac Warner has described the election and its unprecedented levels of absentee balloting as a success.

“We got it right, and we did it safely,” Warner said today.

But he too questioned whether widespread absentee balloting would be repeated for the General Election. Warner spoke today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules & Administration on General Election Preparations.

During his remarks, Warner noted that although Governor Justice’s State of Emergency order continues, a “stay-at-home” order issued by the governor has been discontinued and replaced by a “safer at home” order.

“Covid 19 is the elephant in the room for the upcoming election,” Warner said.  “Due to the virus, our governor issued a stay at home order that overlapped our primary. Accordingly, everyone had a medical reason to vote absentee. For uniformity, we sent applications to every registered voter, and half of the ballots cast were absentee.

“The stay-at-home order is now lifted, and county clerks have asked that we return to voters initiating requests to vote absentee, consistent with state law. We must now educate voters to election changes as they occur with this unpredictable virus.”





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