West Virginians can request absentee ballots starting August 11 (Charleston Gazette-Mail, August 7, 2020)
On July 27, the Secretary of State’s office confirmed that voters will be able to cite COVID-19 as a medical excuse to vote absentee in the upcoming election.
In a press release, Secretary of State Mac Warner said, “West Virginia voters should never have to choose between their health and their right to vote. Let me be very clear. Any voter concerned about their health and safety because of COVID-19 will have the option to vote by absentee ballot.”
We wholeheartedly agree, and this is a welcome announcement. Giving all West Virginia voters the option to safely vote by absentee ballot in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is just and right. However, at this point we don’t know if the necessary executive orders and funding will be in place to mail applications to registered voters, as was done in the primary election. The latter was crucial to enabling voters to take advantage of this option in the primary, and West Virginia voters embraced absentee voting in large numbers, with half of voters choosing to cast their ballots safely from home.
LWV-WV is part of a coalition of voting rights advocates and community leaders calling on the governor, and state and local election officials to make the process consistent with the primary by mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.
Voters will be able to request absentee ballots for the November election through an online portal beginning August 11, and that this option can help reduce opportunities for human errors and increase efficiency in the request process. 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. Receiving ballot applications will also likely result in higher voter participation. All registered voters should be mailed an absentee ballot application, along with information about alternative ways to request an absentee ballot, as well as in-person voting options.
The threat of COVID-19 is greater today than it was in June when West Virginia voters proved that voting by mail works. Like the coronavirus, the need to provide safe options for voters hasn’t gone away.