Voting by absentee ballot is usually reserved only for special circumstances, such as if a person is in the military or if someone is confined in a medical facility like a nursing home. The remote ballots have gained notoriety in the 2020 election cycle in West Virginia, however, as counties throughout the Mountain State have expanded their use due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Approximately 1.2 million absentee ballot applications were sent out to West Virginia voters across all 55 counties to provide an extra option to individuals who may not feel comfortable voting by traditional methods. The applications were sent out in April in anticipation of the state primary election, which is scheduled for a postponed date of June 9, nearly a month later than the original date of May 12.
Out of approximately 15,200 registered voters in Boone County, the Boone County Clerk’s Office received 2,673 requests for absentee ballots and has received back 1,829 of those as of Wednesday, May 27, according to County Clerk Roger Toney. That’s a stark contrast from the 50 to 70 his office usually processes per year, he said.
The story is similar in neighboring Logan County, where the Clerk’s Office had already processed about 2,300 absentee ballots out of 25,433 registered voters in the county by Tuesday, May 26. In his 14 years in the position, Logan County Clerk John Turner said the most absentee ballots he had seen before this year was 162 in a presidential election.
“It just depends,” Turner said. “I’ve seen 40 … if it’s a midterm, the numbers are low, maybe 40 to 50. In a presidential, it’ll probably double. That’s normal situations. It’s been hectic, it’s been crazy. We’ve got a great staff, and they stepped up to the plate. We’ve got everything organized, and it’s running like a well-oiled machine.”
Toney said the process has been an “unbelievable amount of work” in Boone County.
“We send these requests out, and let’s say you send one back — we have to go into that statewide voter registration system, we have to take your request for a ballot, we have to timestamp it and date it right on your request, we have to go in that statewide voter registration system in the computer, put the day that we received your request, and how we received it, and then what ballot (Democrat or Republican) you requested,” Toney said.
Both Toney and Turner noted that some voters in their respective counties may not have received a ballot application form due to errors such as a voter not updating their current physical address.
Methods of voting by mail, such as absentee ballots, have been criticized by some political circles over fraud concerns. The most notable critic is U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly characterized the alternative voting methods as “cheat-by-mail.”
The Mountain State made national headlines May 27 when a postal carrier was charged with tampering with eight mail-in requests for absentee voter ballots. Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dryfork, W.Va., claimed it was a joke after he admitted to altering party affiliations on several absentee ballot requests and later delivering them to the Pendleton County Clerk’s Office.
Toney said he feels the process is safe from fraud overall and that his office has taken all the precautions it can. He said there is room for error in any voting method and noted that absentee ballots are subject to potential mishaps in the U.S. Postal Service, such as getting lost in the mail.
“There’s room for error just through the postal system, and people don’t trust … you know, they’ve called me and told me that, ‘I’m not voting like this,’ ” and, you know, that’s their prerogative, but I’m telling you, that ballot comes in here, we date, timestamp it, we go back in that computer, and we record the date that we received your ballot and how we received it,” Toney said.
Toney also noted that voters can use the West Virginia Secretary of State’s absentee ballot tracking service at www.GoVoteWV.com.
“Once those things make it back in here, we lock them in a big steel box, and that steel box is back in the vault, and that steel box has two locks on it,” Toney said. “One lock belongs to a Democrat and one belongs to a Republican, so it takes both of them to get into it.”
Turner agreed that the process is secure overall.
“It is secure, you know, the way we handle it when they come in,” Turner said. “We did a little video of when we separate the information ballot, which has got their information on it, we open that up and put the security ballot in one can, and we locked it that day. That’s how it’s done until we pull those out to count them. Nobody knows whose ballot is whose, and the commission will be present and then the opposite parties will be there, so it’s pretty well cut and dry. I know there’s a lot of concern about ballots having fraud.
“It is 100% secure,” Turner added. “Check with my staff, we know.”
Absentee ballots will not be tabulated until the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on election night. The ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, June 9, to be counted.
The statewide early voting period ends Saturday, June 6.
Voters in Boone County who want to vote early may visit the Boone County Courthouse in Madison during regular courthouse hours, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Toney noted that early voting is being held in a hallway of the courthouse and that proper social distancing and sanitization measures are in place.
Early voting in Logan County is being conducted in the lobby of the Logan County Commission building at 325 Stratton St. in Logan this year in order to better honor COVID-19 guidelines. The polls are open from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday.
Several state and local candidates have completed profiles on our website. Go to www.loganbanner.com. Click News and then Election Candidates.