ELKINS, W.Va. – West Virginia Attorney General Morrisey has announced a criminal charge against a mail carrier in a voter fraud case.

Morrisey, U.S. Attorney Bill Powell and Secretary of State Mac Warner announced a criminal charge against a rural mail carrier in connection with the alleged manipulation of absentee voter requests.

Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dryfork, stands charged with attempting to defraud the residents of West Virginia of a fair election. An affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint states Cooper fraudulently altered eight absentee ballot requests in Pendleton County, of which the complaint states he fraudulently changed the party affiliation on five from Democrat to Republican.

“Manipulating one’s absentee ballot or application is not a laughing matter – it’s a federal offense,” Morrisey said. “We must protect the integrity of the ballot box, and this demonstrates the aggressive action we will take to do so. It is more important now than ever for voters to watch for unexplained or suspicious marks and/or any other irregularity with their ballot. If something looks suspicious, let us know right away.”

The affidavit states Cooper accessed the ballot requests through his employment as a rural mail carrier. He was responsible for mail delivery in the three towns from which the tampered requests were mailed—Onego, Riverton and Franklin.

According to the affidavit, Cooper admitted to altering some of the requests.

“On April 27, 2020, Inspector Phillips and I met with Thomas Cooper, who agreed to an audio recording interview. During the interview, Cooper said that ‘yes,’ he changed the requests that had been placed in the mail at the Onega post office (i.e., the R’s requests). As for the other requests, Cooper said, ‘I’m not saying no…[but] if it was on my route, I would take the blame.’ The investigator asked, ‘You were just being silly?’ and Cooper responded, ‘Yeah… [I did it] as a joke. . [I] don’t even know them.'”

Affidavit for Thomas Cooper

The alterations were caught by an elections official in the Pendleton County Courthouse and reported to the state’s Election Fraud Task Force, according to a press release.

Warner noted the alertness and quick reaction by Pendleton County election officials, and said, “We want everyone to be tuned into the increased opportunities for fraud. Voting absentee makes it easy to vote, but increases opportunities for irregularities and fraud to occur. If you see something, say something.”

The complaint was filed after an investigation by the West Virginia Election Fraud Task Force, led by assistant United States attorneys from both the Northern and Southern Districts of West Virginia, special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and investigators from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.  

The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General also investigated.

The Attorney General’s Office said this week’s filing amplifies concerns related to the ability of fraudsters to steal or manipulate absentee ballots now that more people will use a mail-in, absentee ballot due to social distancing concerns driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

The attorney general and secretary of state alerted voters in April to potential warning signs of absentee voter fraud, including the theft of absentee ballots from one’s mailbox, the submission of absentee ballot applications in the name of a recently-deceased person and the submitting of more than two ballots during an election cycle—also known as ballot harvesting, the release explains.

The leaders also recommended that no one should accept assistance in marking a ballot unless he knows and completely trusts the person to ward off any fraudster looking to substitute another choice over that of the legitimate voter. Even then, the helper should mark the ballot in front of the voter and sign the affidavit on the absentee ballot envelope, the release states.

Anyone who suspects potential voter fraud should contact the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Hotline toll free at 877-FRAUD-WV.

Anyone with reports of price gouging, scams and consumer fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239 or visit the office online.