Warner rolls out general election plans for absentee; Tennant criticizes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There are now official voting options for the 2020 November general election in West Virginia.

Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office announced guidelines that include a voter being able to request an absentee ballot online or by phone due to COVID-19 concerns.

Mac Warner

According to Warner, all a voter needs to do is select “Illness, injury or other medical reason which keeps me confined” as the excuse for completing an absentee ballot application to the clerk’s office.

“West Virginia voters should never have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Warner said in a news release by the office on Monday afternoon. “Let me be very clear. Any voter concerned about their health and safety because of COVID-19 will have the option to vote by absentee ballot.”

Warner’s office released a 10-page summary report of meetings with the state’s 55 county clerks in the past three weeks, which detail the planning, administration, and voter participation of the primary that was held in June.

Applications for an absentee ballot were mailed to all registered voters during the primary. Warner’s office said that has changed based on the results on the report, now creating an online absentee ballot request portal for the general election.

Beginning Aug. 11, voters will be able to complete an application using the Absentee Ballot Application Portal. Voters who do not have access to the portal may still request an absentee ballot application form by contacting their county clerks by phone, email, or fax. The form will be mailed upon request.

The release by Warner’s office said the online absentee ballot application option will arrive at the clerk’s office faster, reduce issues related to the U.S. Mail service, decrease opportunities for human error, and help protect voters’ right to participate.

“This remarkable tool will greatly reduce any burden on eligible voters to request an absentee ballot, assist county clerks with processing increases in absentee voting, and reduce errors and lost ballots,” Warner said.

“Since 2001, the Legislature found it important to ask voters to apply for an absentee ballot. This online tool also allows our clerks to focus on the most important parts of the election — the health and safety of our voters and poll workers, and holding an accurate and fair election.”

Warner will be on the ballot in the general election, running for reelection against former Secretary of State and Democrat Natalie Tennant.

She appeared on Monday morning’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ and said the voters have expressed worries to her about the changed procedures to request an absentee ballot.

“Voters are saying ‘Natalie what is going on here,'” Tennant said. “Why are they trying to change it on me? Why can’t I just get an application like I did in the primary election and they can’t answer that question.”

“We are in tough COVID times. If it was good enough back in March to send out an application, why is not good enough when COVID is worse and people are more fearful. They should not have to choose between their health and their right to vote.”

Tennant said there are far too many hoops to jump through with the new process and even called it “an act of voter suppression.”

Gov. Jim Justice was asked about the voting process for November during his COVID-19 press briefing on Monday.

“I want as many people to vote as we possibly can have vote, I always want that. At the same time, I do not want to get into a situation where we are making a situation for corruption,” he said.

Warner encourages all voters to check their registration and polling location ahead of the November election at GoVoteWV.com. The last day to register to vote or to update your current voter registration is Oct. 13.

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