County clerks gearing up for general election, new absentee ballot rule

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — County clerks across West Virginia have begun accepting absentee ballot requests for the general election, a new option for many voters compared to previous election seasons.

Registered voters will not receive an application to receive a ballot like the June primary election, but they can cite the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for voting by mail.

According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, 225,000 West Virginians — around 50% of primary election voters — voted by mail in June. In Kanawha County, the state’s most populous county, around 52% of voters — 25,207 people — submitted absentee ballots.

“It was a lot of work,” Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick said of the primary election. “I think all of the 55 county clerks worked hard. We came up with procedures at the last minute, but I think it went well.”

McCormick said the Kanawha County Clerk’s Office sent 122,000 absentee request forms, in which 14,000 were undeliverable. McCormick added sending out absentee ballot applications before the June primary election was successful.

“People are now out. They are going to the restaurants, and they are going out now,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they still can’t vote absentee.”

Voters for the general election have to request an absentee ballot either through an online portal ran by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office or by contacting their county clerk’s office.

The Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday said more than 7,000 voters have requested an absentee ballot online compared to 1,700 people who have reached out to their county clerk. McCormick said her office has been fielding calls about voting options.

Elise White (Pendleton County Commission)

“We want people to feel comfortable about going out and voting,” she said.

Pendleton County Clerk Elise White described to MetroNews how ballot requests are screened; application information is compared to county and state election information. If a mistake is noticed, a county clerk employee will contact the voter about the inaccurate information.

Thomas Cooper, a Pendleton County postal carrier, was charged in May with election fraud after taking absentee ballot requests for Democrat voters and re-marking the party identification box on the ballots as Republican. White said it was the verification process that resulted in Cooper’s arrest.

“We verify every application that we get to make sure that they are registered to vote, and we also verify their signatures with what we have in our systems,” she said. “When they send their ballot back in, they have to actually sign the envelope also, so there is another chance to verify the signatures.”

White said voting by mail is safe, but added the general election could mean an increase in absentee ballots; more voters traditionally participate in general elections compared to primaries.

“If we get a lot (of requests), it can be overwhelming,” she said. “But we would just pull people from other offices or we would hire an additional poll worker to help us if we needed to.”

McCormick agreed, but said people should feel comfortable voting in-person early or on Election Day.

“We do have checks and balances,” she said.

Oct. 13 is the final day to register to vote, and Oct. 28 is the final day county clerks will accept absentee ballot requests.

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