Congress, Elections, State Government

The Dominion Post polls four top state GOP officials on the Trump-Biden transition

MORGANTOWN — As President Trump’s election-results court challenges continue to unfold in a handful of states, he has refused to concede the election to former Vice President Joe Biden and has refused to assist the presumptive president-elect’s transition team.

Editorial comment embedded in and accompanying news reports on the issue has raised two concerns: the dangers this poses to national security and to the Biden team’s readiness to assume oversight of the national pandemic response.

Biden himself on Tuesday complained that the delays hamper his team’s readiness to oversee distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

On the national security issue, as Biden has been shut out of high-level briefings typically accorded a president-elect, various media reported that he received a briefing Tuesday from experts outside the government, some of them insiders from the Obama administration.

Critics draw parallels to the 2000 election, when Democratic Vice President Al Gore refused to concede to Republican George W. Bush until Dec. 13, after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the Florida election case in Bush’s favor. The delays in getting top aides into position with their national security clearances hampered the Bush administration’s preparedness for the 9/11 attacks, they say, and the 9/11 Commission warned against repeating such delays in future transitions.

With that in mind, The Dominion Post contacted four top West Virginia GOP elected officials to see if they are yet prepared to acknowledge Biden as president-elect. Last week, Gov. Jim Justice twice said he will support Biden once the court process is complete and Biden is certified as the winner, but he won’t acknowledge Biden is president-elect.

Justice made his first unsolicited comments Nov. 11 and followed them up on Friday, saying, “I still believe that we have votes to count and we have issues to make sure that the votes are legal.”

The Dominion Post contacted Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Rep. David McKinley, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Secretary of State Mac Warner.

Capito has regularly supported Trump but was one of a number of GOP senators who publicly broke with him on Tuesday over Trump’s firing of Chris Krebs,director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Krebs has praised the administration’s accomplishments in securing the election, contradicting Trump’s message.

Capito is quoted in The Hill saying of the firing, “I don’t agree with it. He’s kept us very well informed, he’s been very professional. I’ve had several meetings with him … and I’m appreciative of all of his work”

However, on the transition, her office said, “Sen. Capito has not made any official statements on the topic at this point.”

McKinley did not respond to requests for comment made via phone and email.

Morrisey replied at length via an email exchange. “I think with respect to the presidential elections, the public would have more confidence in the system if they knew a little bit more. President Trump has raised a number of valid concerns about vote dumps, and courts usurping the role of the state legislature and has a right to get to the bottom of things.

“I have confidence this will get resolved peacefully,” he said. “Many of these court cases will play out over the next couple of weeks and then there will be time for a certification of the electors on Dec. 14.

“There are real issues, and I believe there needs to be more substantive talk about what occurred rather than ‘Will he?’ or ‘Won’t he?’ in terms of a concession,” Morrisey said.

“I think our society will benefit – and the American people will grow more confident – from greater predictability and certainty that will come from allowing this process to play out. There needs to be transparency and clarity on all of these issues, so that people can look and say, ‘This is why these things happen, seem improbable or do not seem correct.’ I think President Trump and his team are right to get to the bottom of all of these issues.”

Warner spokesman Mike Queen also responded at length in a phone interview, discussing the election in terms of Warner’s election security measures for West Virginia.

There are two types of security, Queen said: cybersecurity and election fraud or voter fraud.

Cybersecurity deals with electronic attacks on election systems and software. In 2018, The Dominion Post reported on Warner’s involvement in this on the national level as part of the Elections Assistance Commission Government Coordinating Council, and his training of county clerks in cybersecurity.

Election fraud or voter fraud, Queen said, deals with manual manipulation of absentee ballots, vote-by-mail-only programs and such.

“The most secure way to cast a ballot is at a polling location, in person, managed by both major parties, where trained poll workers guarantee every citizen the right to vote a secret ballot,” he said.

Moving beyond that poses additional security concerns. West Virginia is the only state that has e-voting for military and oversees citizens and for residents with severe mobility disabilities, he said, and that brings heightend awareness of hacking and manipulation. “We know that but we prepare for it.”

While they don’t know what Trump knows or what he’s thinking, the secretary’s office believes that when Trump talks about voter fraud, he’s referring to taking the voting process out of a secure environment where an individual secret-ballot vote is more at risk and opportunities for fraud increase.

In any election before this year’s, Queen said, West Virginia had fewer than 7,000 ballots cast in any election in the last 22 years. The June primary saw 262,000 absentee ballots requested. That required the office to work closer with county clerks on training and other matters.

Warner initiated the West Virginia Election Fraud Task Force to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic, Queen said. Delaying the primary to June allowed time for officials to prepare and for the office to educate the public on absentee voting.

Notably, Queen said, out of the 262,000 requested ballots, 37,400 never came back to the clerks. That’s not evidence of fraud but it prompts the question of why they didn’t come back and why those people chose not to participate. And West Virginia is a small state relative to those dealing with election challenges.

If Trump conceded now, Queen said, states would not have the chance to do recounts and look at computer glitches and other errors. The delays don’t mean any results will be overturned, but they allow the states closely examine their processes, their technology, the chain of custody of ballots and such things.

“These are all learning opportunities for the rest of us,” he said. “Our focus has to be on the successful canvasing in each county right now. That’s what will uncover any kind of problems we may have in West Virginia.”

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