Elections, Latest News, State Government

All voters will be permitted to request absentee ballot for November Election; may use new online portal

MORGANTOWN — Any voter who wants to vote absentee in the November general election because of COVID-19 concerns will be able to do so, Secretary of State Mac Warner announced Monday.

Voters will just need to select “Illness, injury or other medical reason which keeps me confined” as the excuse for completing an absentee ballot application, he said.

Unlike in the primary, his office will not be mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, his office said. That effort was part of an educational process to acclimate voters to absentee-by-mail voting.

Instead, his office has set up an online absentee ballot request portal for the 2020 General Election. Beginning Aug. 11, voters will be able to complete an application using the Absentee Ballot Application Portal. The application will automatically be directed to the appropriate county clerk’s office where it will be mailed to the voter.

Voters who do not have access to the portal may still request an absentee ballot application form by contacting their county clerks by phone, email, or fax, Warner said.

During the primary, his office said, 262,000 voters requested absentee ballots and 224,000 actually voted absentee. In prior years, less than 6,700 would vote absentee-by-mail statewide.

Monday’s announcement, Warner said, came after a through review of the primary election process in collaboration with the state’s 55 county clerks. Working with the clerks over the past three weeks, the office produced a 10-page summary report that details the planning, administration, and voter participation in the 2020 Primary Election.

The review identified several processes and opportunities to increase the efficiency and ease of administration, he said, reduce voter confusion, and provide a more accessible and expedient manner to request a ballot. The review led to the creation of the portal.

Voters can vote in-person, Warner said, But “West Virginia voters should never have to choose between their health and their right to vote. … Any voter concerned about their health and safety because of COVID-19 will have the option to vote by absentee ballot.”

Warner noted that West Virginia is under a “safer-at-home order” in which the governor recommends residents stay home except to engage in certain essential activities. Therefore, under current absentee laws that have been in place since 2001, all voters confined to their home during the in-person voting period because of COVID-19 concerns may apply to their county clerk for an absentee ballot.

Warner said the portal is expected to reduce issues related to the U.S. Mail service, decrease opportunities for human error, and help protect voters’ right to participate.

The last day to register to vote or to update your current voter registration is Oct. 13.

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