Holding a statewide election is a complicated matter and executing an election fairly and accurately becomes even more problematic during a pandemic.
Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office and the state’s 55 county clerks executed a temporary fix for the Primary Election by mailing absentee ballot applications to over 1.2 million registered voters. About 261,000 voters requested absentee ballots and, of those, nearly 225,000 filled out those ballots.
It was a mammoth undertaking, considering normally about 7,000 absentee ballots are cast, and it worked remarkably well. Props to the county clerks, their staffs and Warner’s office for pulling it off.
However, there will be a different procedure for November. There will be no mass mailing to voters.
Instead, voters can apply for an absentee ballot through a portal on the Secretary of State’s website that will go live August 12 (GoVoteWV.com). The request will go into the Statewide Voter Registration System and then be routed to the voter’s county clerk, who will send out the ballot.
Or voters can contact their county clerk directly. In either instance, voters only need to cite “medical” as the reason for getting an absentee ballot.
Warner said the decision to modify the absentee ballot process for the General Election was made after consulting with county clerks.
Natalie Tennant, the Democratic former Secretary of State who is challenging Warner in November, wants to follow the same process used in the Primary for November. She argues that since it worked well in the Primary, there is no reason to change course.
She also contends that the plan put forth by Warner amounts to “voter suppression.”
Yes, the Primary system worked well, all things considered, but it was a massive, and at times, confusing undertaking. The clerks and their staffs were stretched to the breaking point, as they worked to process tens of thousands of absentee ballots.
Additionally, of the 261,000 ballots sent to voters, more than 36,000 were never returned to the clerks. Voters who requested an absentee ballot, but then turned up to vote in person, had to vote a provision ballot, if they did not bring their absentee ballot with them.
Also, Governor Justice had a “Stay at Home” order in place during Primary Election season, and it was not modified to “Safer at Home” until a few weeks before the delayed election. Election officials had to prepare for the possibility that people should not leave their homes, thus the expanded absentee voting.
The plan for the General Election is a more practical solution. Voters will have plenty of opportunities to exercise their right. They can request what is essentially a no excuse absentee ballot online, by phone or in person. They can vote in person early or on Election Day.
Warner’s office and the clerks need to conduct extensive public education so voters know how to get an absentee ballot, but that is doable, and the process is not complicated.
If a voter chooses not to participate in November, it won’t because they didn’t have the opportunity.