FAIRMONT, W.Va. – Janice Cosco was first elected to the office of Marion County Clerk on November 4, 1980, and resigned in July of this year. Now, for the first time since a new face is managing the election process in arguably one of the most challenging times in history.
Cosco’s career spanned 10 presidential elections and six different presidents.
Julie Kincaid was appointed to replace Cosco by the Marion County commission September 11 after working in the clerk’s office for 13 years. Kincaid has worked in voter registrations, records and has hands on experience with the election process.
“She ran a seamless operation and had wonderful employees, I was blessed to be one of them for 13 years,” Kincaid said,” I feel completely and totally humbled to be the Marion County clerk.”
Even with 13 years of experience, there are just 54 days between September 11, her appointment date and Election Day, or just 41 days until early voting- October 21. Not to mention the effect of the global pandemic on voters, absentee ballots and mounting questions about the process.
“The difference with being clerk is you’re expected to teach the election worker classes, you’ve got a lot more on your plate, you’re doing interviews such as this,” Kincaid said,” You’re trying to make sure everything is in order for the start of the big show which is early voting.”
Statistics from the U.S. Elections Project says with just about a week until election day more than 54 million Americans have either mailed a ballot or cast one in-person. In West Virginia, more than 100,000 of the 1.2 million registered voters in the state have already voted ahead of Election Day.
In the June 2020 Primary slightly more than 36 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, or 449,000 in pandemic conditions and no COVID-19 cases were linked to polling locations, according to secretary of state Mac Warner.
“The pandemic has really been a challenge, but we’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Kincaid said,” We had to deal with it in the primary and I feel like that is to our advantage, we kind of know what to expect, so I feel we’re a little more prepared this time.”
Now add questions about the mail-in process and potential for fraud and you’ve got the perfect storm for a new county clerk.
“I do understand in some cities or states it probably is a genuine concern, however here in West Virginia we don’t encounter things like that,” Kincaid said,” Our absentee process is very thorough.”
Absentee ballots are verified with the voter’s address, signature on the registration, signature on the application and the signature on the ballot.
According to Kincaid, once the absentee ballot is cast it can be tracked online.
“Voters can check the status of their absentee anytime they like on the secretary of state’s website, that information is at their finger tips,” Kincaid said,” We have found a lot of people are taking advantage of that, especially right now.”
Early voting numbers have been very strong and appear to be on a record setting pace. Early voting is open in West Virginia until October 31.
In Mon County, clerk Carye Blaney tracks voting information online on the hour, and the numbers show with about one week before Election Day about 10 percent of registered voters have cast a ballot. Of the 7,369 people who have cast a ballot in the first three days of early voting in Mon County the highest percentage are in the 65-year-old and up age group and the busiest time of day at the polls is between 9 and 11 a.m.
“Even though we had a line when we began this morning none of our voters waited more than 20 minutes to cast a ballot,” Blaney said,” I think that says a lot for our election officials.”
Early voting locations in Farmington at the Community Building, White Hall in the Public Safety Building and at the County Courthouse Annex/J. Harper Building have also been very busy, according to Kincaid.
Voters who have requested an absentee ballot, but have now decided to vote in-person should bring their ballot to the early voting location to ensure a speedy process.
“Unfortunately there are lines, but fortunately that gives you time to gather your belongings and get ready for when you come to the table to check in,” Kincaid said,” So, if you have your ID and you have your voter registration card, that helps us even more.”
Now that early voting is underway and running smoothly, Kincaid says she and her staff are applying the lessons learned to the November 3.
“I know it is a very controversial election and we’re going to have huge turnouts,” Kincaid said,” I hope we do have everything on a pretty even keel from here on out.”