West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said Friday that an alleged absentee voter fraud scheme will not affect the state’s 2020 primary election results.
Details at this point are scant, but in a press release Thursday evening, Warner said his office and law enforcement discovered the plot early and turned over their findings to the state’s U.S. attorneys. Neither would comment on the matter Friday.
“I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any matter in our office, or any investigation,” said Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.
If an indictment is handed up, the announcement would come from U.S. Attorney William Powell for the Northern District of West Virginia, Warner said.
In the Mountain State, all registered voters this year can legally cast absentee ballots in the upcoming primary, to allow for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. In-person early voting is still happening, from May 27 to June 6, and on election day, June 9.
In March, Warner announced that county clerks across West Virginia would be sending every registered voter an application for an absentee ballot. A month later, he announced the creation of a West Virginia Election Fraud Task Force, involving Stuart, Powell, law enforcement and election officials, “to deter voter and election fraud” associated with the primary.
Since ballot applications went out to roughly 1.2 million registered voters in April, more than 235,000 people have applied to vote absentee. Roughly 115,000 already have cast a ballot.
Only a little more than 6,500 West Virginians voted absentee during the 2016 presidential primary.
President Donald Trump has criticized Democratic leaders for opening up absentee voting options in states like Michigan, where he threatened to withhold federal funding as that state expanded options to vote by mail. Trump has cited concerns over voter fraud for years without providing evidence; election experts have said the problem is rare, and there’s little evidence that absentee voting works in favor of a certain party.
Warner echoed the president’s concerns, saying more absentee voting leads to an increase in opportunities for fraud.
“It really irks me to hear reportedly on the national TV and so forth, you’ll hear, ‘well there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.’ You don’t need widespread voter fraud,” Warner told West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Friday. In smaller elections and elections with tied results, he added, a handful of votes matter.
Former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate Natalie Tennant called on her Republican opponent Warner to disclose more details of the alleged voter fraud.
“This kind of fly-by-night statement without evidence or explanation hurts the voter’s confidence in the election process,” Tennant said. “It could look like an attempt to suppress voters.”
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.