Just days after Secretary of State Mac Warner announced a voting plan for West Virginia’s November election, a coalition of voting rights groups is calling for wider access to an application for absentee ballots.
On Monday, Warner announced that all West Virginians could use the ongoing pandemic as a reason to vote absentee. He said voters will be able to access an application for a ballot through an online portal — but that they can also write, call or fax a county clerk for an application.
But the plan for the general election differs from what was used in the state’s primary that was held last month. For West Virginia’s June 9 primary, all registered voters were automatically mailed an absentee ballot application.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 262,000 absentee ballots were requested for the primary. Of those, nearly 225,000 were returned — making half of all ballots cast in the primary absentee.
Warner told West Virginia Public Broadcasting the new absentee ballot application process would eliminate more hands on each application, which ultimately decreases opportunities for voter fraud. However, most election security experts say voter fraud — including incidents that involve mail-in voting — is extremely rare.
Warner said the absentee application process for the general election will improve upon the system used in the primary.
But in a letter dated Wednesday, a coalition of voting rights groups are calling on Warner and other election officials to restore the absentee ballot application policy used in the primary.
The 11-group coalition includes West Virginians for Clean Elections, the state chapter of the ACLU, the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, the West Virginia AFL-CIO and the state chapter of the League of Women Voters, among others.
The coalition cites concerns over ballot access during the pandemic, particularly for those who are elderly or who lack internet access.
“We understand that voters will have an online option for requesting absentee ballots for the November election, and that this option can help reduce opportunities for human errors and increase efficiency in the request process,” the coalition wrote in the letter. “While this is a welcome option, it will not help many older West Virginians or those without internet access. Mailing ballot applications to voters will keep the process consistent with the primary and create less confusion for voters.”
Various members of the coalition commented on the effort in a statement that was sent to news media along with a copy of the letter.
“We cannot allow the right to safely vote become a polarizing issue,” WV Citizens for Clean Elections coordinator Julie Archer said in the release. “We can protect West Virginia voters and protect the vote during this pandemic. And we must.”
Democrat Natalie Tennant — who is running against Warner to regain the post of Secretary of State — has also said Warner’s altered absentee voting process is confusing and limits access to the polls.