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Across this great COVID-19 nation, there is tremendous debate as to whether absentee voting by mail should be allowed and whether it causes voter fraud. Well, I can’t speak for folks in places like Georgia or California or almost anywhere else, but according to County Clerk John Turner and employees in his office, there were very few problems encountered by his office in this year’s primary election where a record 2,457 ballots were cast by mail in Logan County.

Considering that the primary election was conducted June 9 before Logan County became the “hot” topic of the state with the virus and considering that additional people are probably more leery of voting in public than ever, I look for even more absentee voting than before.

Unlike the primary, however, voters will not automatically receive ballots in the mail. Anyone desiring to vote by mail must fill out an application for a ballot, which can be done simply by calling the clerk’s office at 304-792-8620. According to Turner, the voter needs only to mark the box that reads COVID-19 and a postage free ballot will be mailed to the voter. Turner explained that the voter does not have to be diagnosed with the virus to check the box and that it simply means the fear of the virus is why the voter wishes to vote an absentee ballot, which can be returned either by mail or hand-delivered to the courthouse.

Absentee ballot requests began Aug. 11 and will continue until Oct. 28, five days before the general election. Ballots will begin being accepted by the clerk’s office Sept. 18. Early voting begins Oct. 21 and ends on Halloween Day. For those individuals desiring to vote by mail, it is recommended that you request an application and that once you receive the ballot return it as soon as possible to avoid what could become mail delays, although that problem is not locally anticipated.

I predict voter turnout by mail nationwide to rise dramatically and it is likely there will be problems that will resemble the election of 2000 in which the “hanging chads” problem in Florida saw the outcome of the George W. Bush-Al Gore confrontation finally be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote to halt the vote counting in Florida. Gore, some may recall, received 500,000 more of the popular votes nationwide, but Florida’s electoral vote went to Bush, giving him the presidency.

Of course, most of us recall the 2016 presidential election in which Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by winning the Electoral College vote convincingly, despite losing to Clinton in the popular vote by 2.8 million votes — the largest disparity in U.S. history.

Speaking of history, when it comes down to it — for those people who do not like the idea of voting by mail — maybe the person to blame is former President Abraham Lincoln. To me, today’s national crisis eerily resembles too closely what was going on during the Civil War when Americans were divided over, among other things, the issue of slavery. Thank goodness there is no real civil war happening today, but there is clearly an issue between blacks and whites.

Just like today, with the nation in crisis and a divisive president up for reelection, Abraham Lincoln wanted to let the soldiers vote from the battlefields. The Democrats opposing the Republican president’s reelection opposed soldiers voting by mail as a scheme by Republicans to somehow “rig” the election. There were about 150,000 of the one million Union soldiers who voted by mail in 1864 when Lincoln was reelected. Soldiers in every war since have been allowed to vote by mail. In a way, all Americans are today fighting a war — an unconventional war against an unseen enemy — the coronavirus. And, as controversial as it may be, voting by mail seems only the logical thing to do. I personally do not view it as a Republican or Democrat issue in these abnormal times.

While I realize that on a national basis voting by mail is a controversial topic, at least here in Logan County — even though I always vote in person at my polling place — there doesn’t seem to be an issue. “It’s a secured system that works really well,” according to John Turner. “We even compare signatures on the ballots to those of the application. And every person is checked to see if they are in fact a registered voter. If you’re not registered, you don’t get a ballot.”

On a personal basis, I have witnessed and endured from the time I was a small kid how the election system worked. From “Mattingly and Moore” half-pints of liquor used to purchase votes, to $5 bills that worked the same way, I can attest to the fact that today’s voting machines and methods much better reflect the real desires of the voters, who are no longer intimidated by the “on the election grounds” methods of self-serving politicos.

Whether by mail or in person, today’s standard of voting is much safer and more reflective of a voter’s desires. At the very least, the results are more accurate than the days when poll workers hand wrote in totals, often making mistakes — some deliberately — in reporting the precinct results.

What I do not like about today’s method of voting is the quick outcome and reporting of results it allows. I miss the excitement of listening to the radio results when sometimes one precinct at a time was reported, allowing the election night drama to manifest from one precinct result to another.

Unfortunately, but understandably, the results are now reported via the radio as in “with five precincts reporting” instead of a breakdown of each individual precinct’s result, which used to allow one to know the outcome at a particular precinct. I imagine one could say that I am just “stuck in my ways” when I declare that I actually enjoyed listening to election night voting results, sometimes as late as 1 a.m., before the outcome could be determined in some political races.

Shucks, I even miss the carnival atmosphere that was created on the grounds of polling places during election day. It was a circus and a rodeo atmosphere combined, as different factions bought potential voters just like cattle, branding each one with their own political slate of candidates. Sometimes, it just came down to which side had the most money, as vote buying was rampant.

As bad as that sounds, consider that in the early days of this nation only white men could vote — no women and no African Americans — and it wasn’t done on a paper ballot. In the first 50 years of American elections, those eligible to vote simply went to their local courthouse and publicly cast their vote out loud. Perhaps that is why there were so many fights and shootings at election time in those days.

A judge at the courthouse would use a Bible and have each voter swear they were the person they said they were and that they had not already voted. Once sworn in, the voter would call out his choice of candidates to the clerk, who would record them.

Just like the electronic voting of today, improvements came along and by the mid-19th century the first paper ballots were created by Republicans and Democrats. Party officials would hand out fliers with only their party’s candidates listed. Voters were urged to use the paper as their actual ballot, thus making it easy for a voter to vote straight down a party line.

Because the fliers resembled train tickets of that time period, they were referred to as “tickets,” thus came the terms Democrat or Republican tickets. Growing up, I can remember political signs that simply said, “Vote A Straight Democrat Ticket.” Oh, how things have changed, perhaps even for the better. Who can really say?

Sometimes, I just think voting period is more important than even who you’re voting for.

Bits and Pieces

The year of 2020 is one that will long live in the minds of those who manage to endure the pandemic that has changed everyone’s lives. Nearly everything has been altered. For instance, in the beginning there was a tremendous toilet paper shortage that was followed by the shortage of pinto beans in grocery stores. I’m not sure which one caused the most panic, but she stores shelves were (pardon the pun) wiped out.

White those two shortages seem to have been somewhat remedied, those of us who like to preserve our foods in the form of “canning” cannot find a good supply of the jars or the lids and rings needed to preserve nature’s bounty, be it cucumbers, beans, corn or anything else.

I ask, “What’s next? No wrapping paper for Christmas?”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” — the late John Lewis.

CLOSING NOTE: Although I doubt football even finishing out a regular season this year, I will make the bold prediction that if high school basketball in West Virginia is played this season, the Man Hillbillies will become Class A champions. Led by 6-6 Austin Ball, the ’Billies will have a cast of fine players to compliment his talent. Just remember, you heard it here first.

Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.