CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia voters on Tuesday can start applying to receive an absentee ballot for this year’s general election.
The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office is allowing people to request an absentee ballot by citing the coronavirus — much like the June primary election — yet registered voters will not receive an application in the mail this time. Voters instead will have to submit an absentee ballot request form online or contact their county clerk.
“This is an improved way of requesting that,” Secretary of State Mac Warner told MetroNews. “It reduces the touches of human hands by the U.S. Postal Service and clerks, all of those places where human error did enter into the process in the primary. We’re going to eliminate that by automating it, transforming the process, and allowing people to go online and directly request their absentee ballot.”
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, nearly 50% of primary voters — 225,000 West Virginians — chose to vote by mail. Voter turnout in general elections is traditionally greater than primary election turnout.
“I’ll suspect we’ll have that many and perhaps a few more in the general election,” Warner said. “It really depends on COVID-19 and whether it flairs back up, and people’s comfort level.”
Warner, however, noted concerns regarding the safety of absentee voting.
“If you won the lottery, would you put that lottery ticket in the mail or would you take it down to the lottery commission yourself?” he said. “Most people would hand-deliver it because we’ve all experienced difficulties with the mail.”
Warner said although the U.S. Postal Service is efficient “most of the time,” important items are better handled in person; he encouraged voting early or on Election Day if possible.
“If you have that legitimate COVID-19 concern, there is no reason to put your health at risk and you can vote absentee. Everybody is eligible to do that in West Virginia,” he said.
Former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is Warner’s opponent in this year’s Secretary of State contest, said she has doubts about the effectiveness of the online portal.
“(Voters) may be anticipating that they would be receiving an application that they could apply for a ballot to be mailed to them,” she said.
Tennant argued some people lack internet access to submit a request form or research how to contact their county clerk’s office, limiting opportunities to vote.
“We’ve been talking about how we are going to get students to learn virtually and online, and how we’re going to have to put 1,000 hot spots around the state because the internet is so bad,” she said. “It’s bad for students and teachers. It’s also bad for voters.”
When asked if voting by mail is a secure process, Tennant answered yes. A Pendleton County postal worker was charged in May after tampering with absentee ballot request forms; Thomas Cooper admitted to changing party identifications from Democrat to Republican.
“That county clerk caught it immediately because she knew the folks who had sent in the postcard, but there’s also several layers (of security),” Tennant said in favor of voting by mail. “You have a statewide voter registration database. You have a database within the county clerk’s office.”
Voters interested in receiving an absentee ballot can submit a request at https://sos.wv.gov/elections/Pages/GoVoteWV.aspx or by contacting their county clerk’s office.
“You can also track your application and see if your county clerk has received the application or whether your ballot has been sent out or received,” Warner said of the website.
Voters will begin receiving ballots on Sept. 19, and applications will be accepted through Oct. 28. The final day of voter registration is Oct. 13.