Facing Coronavirus, W.Va. Secretary Of State Expands Access To Absentee Ballots For May 12 Primary

Mar 18, 2020

 


As other states announce plans to delay primary elections over the concern of the growing coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia still plans to hold elections Tuesday, May 12. 

The date is still almost two months away, but state officials say they’re taking precautions to ensure a safe election season.  

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said during a press conference Wednesday his office will “ramp up the absentee process,” so people don’t necessarily have to visit the polls to cast their vote.  

In West Virginia, voters are not automatically eligible to vote absentee and must apply to receive their ballots, based on immobility, out-of-state travel, military service abroad or a serious medical reason. 

Warner said people will be able to use the coronavirus as a medical reason to vote from home. That applies to people diagnosed, people who are quarantining and people who are at a higher risk of catching the virus, he said.  

Across the country, states with upcoming primary elections are struggling to hire and retain voluntary poll workers. Warner said the very population that staffs polling sites, often retirees, are the people who face the highest risk of contracting the virus.  

“Folks, this coronavirus situation is this generation's national emergency,” Warner said Wednesday. “The people that are the least susceptible to the coronavirus situation is the younger demographic. So, now that's my plea. On behalf of the county clerks, please step up and volunteer to work at the polls.” 

People can apply for their ballots immediately. Warner said he hopes ballots will go out as soon as next week. Voters can either receive their ballots electronically, pick them up in person, or call and request a paper version from their county clerk’s office.  

To vote using an electronically-obtained ballot, voters are required to print the document and mail the completed ballot to their local county clerk’s office.  

Early voting dates remain the same, running from Wednesday, April 29, to Saturday, May 9. 

Warner said Wednesday his office has no public plans for the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.  

The absentee ballot changes are not anticipated to impact a new law for voters with disabilities, which Gov. Jim Justice signed into law last month. As of this year, West Virginians with disabilities affecting their ability to vote privately can submit their ballots remotely, using technology from a group called Democracy Live

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.