CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Republican lawmakers in the West Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate have announced support to continue moving forward with the June 9 Primary Election as currently planned.
“We have full confidence in Secretary of State Mac Warner and our county clerks to conduct this election in a manner that protects the health of our people while also preserving our citizens’ fundamental right to vote through whichever available option they choose,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.
According to a statement, West Virginia currently provides four options for citizens to exercise their right to vote: absentee, in-person early voting, in-person election day voting and electronic voting for special populations, including people with disabilities and overseas military personnel.
“From the earliest days of our democracy, the opportunity to vote in person has been an establishing principal in the conduct of American elections,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “Eliminating the option to voluntarily vote in person, either during the early voting period or on election day, would be an egregious violation of citizens’ voting rights and traditions.”
Legislators said the state should allow its citizens to decide for themselves which voting method they prefer.
“We believe the voters know what option best suits them in these unprecedented times,” said House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor. “They must have the right to choose to show up at the polls and make their voices heard–as they have in every election in our state’s history–if they so choose.”
“Every West Virginia voter has been mailed an absentee ballot application so they do not have to show up at a polling location they feel could pose a health risk to themselves or others,” Summers said. “If a voter is more comfortable voting in person at his or her polling place staffed by poll workers who’ve voluntarily chosen to assist their neighbors in exercising their constitutional right and civic duty, no politician should propose denying them that right nor should their voice be suppressed.”
Lawmakers noted that West Virginia has been a leader in the area of election reforms, and is currently the only state that will be able to count the votes of its overseas U.S. citizens and military personnel. However, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, 161 countries are currently not accepting U.S. mail, which means West Virginia’s overseas U.S. citizens and military personnel would not be able to vote should a vote-by-mail system be adopted.
“Does their vote not matter if we change to mail-in ballot only?” said Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell. “Thanks to the efforts of Secretary Warner, we now have an electronic process put in place for these individuals so we can ensure their votes count–we shouldn’t take that right away from them now.”
Legislators also noted that in-person voting provides additional security. The release explains that poll workers check the poll book when a voter arrives in person to see if that voter has already been reported as voting early or absentee. They also noted the state, as recently as 2010, has made national news for officials attempting to corrupt the absentee ballot process.
“Given the concerns for fraud inherent with widespread absentee balloting, as evidenced in West Virginia’s history and numerous convictions, voting in person provides one of the only checks a voter has to ensure someone else has not illegally voted on their behalf,” Linville said.
Lawmakers said the push to vote by mail for the impending election is also ill-advised because the proposal has not been thoroughly investigated to be sure it can be properly carried out. The release states that it took the state of Washington five years to implement its system, whereas West Virginia clerks might be expected to implement it in less than five weeks.
Previously, other lawmakers pushed to have Gov. Jim Justice endorse a vote-by-mail primary.