CHARLESTON, W.Va. – United States Attorney Mike Stuart for the Southern District of West Virginia and United States Attorney Bill Powell for the Northern District of West Virginia have announced the formation of the West Virginia Election Fraud Task Force to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud related to the 2020 West Virginia election.
West Virginia has more than 1.2 million registered voters eligible to participate in the June 9 primary, according to the United States Attorney’s Office. There are also more than 1,700 polling locations available throughout the state for in-person voting on Election Day.
The West Virginia Election Fraud Task Force will be led by Assistant United States Attorneys from both the Southern and Northern Districts of West Virginia, Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and investigators from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.
Assistant United States Attorney Erik Goes has been appointed to serve as the District Election Officer for the Southern District of West Virginia and AUSA Stephen D. Warner has been designated as the DEO for the Northern District of West Virginia, according to a press release.
The AUSAs are responsible for overseeing the federal response to any complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses in consultation with state authorities, the FBI and Justice Department headquarters.
“Free and fair elections are the foundations of liberty and freedom,” said Stuart. “Election fraud has always been a priority for the Department of Justice. This year, with the national emergency related to coronavirus and the increase in social distancing, social media, absentee voting and mail in ballots, it is more important than ever that we use every resource available to ensure that every vote is counted and every vote is legitimate. I look forward to working with the Election Fraud Task Force and U.S. Attorney Powell on this important effort.”
“Compliance with our election laws is extraordinarily important to our democratic way of life. It is my privilege to work with my colleague, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart and our state election officers. We are committed to the enforcement of our laws so that the election is fair and above reproach,” said Powell.
According to West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, the use of absentee ballots could present additional opportunities for voter fraud during an election. Every voter in West Virginia qualifies for an absentee ballot for the 2020 primary election because of the heightened precautions of the coronavirus pandemic. In-person voting remains an option for voters during the early voting period and on Election Day, and local election officials are using every precaution to keep voters and poll workers safe. However, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, substantial increases in the use of absentee-by-mail ballots is anticipated during the June 9 primary election, according to the release.
“I am very pleased to join U.S. Attorneys Stuart and Powell in this effort to help deter and prosecute election fraud in West Virginia,” said Warner. “These are extraordinary times calling for an extraordinary partnership to protect the integrity of our elections and to maintain confidence among the voters.”
The Department of Justice seeks to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the election process by providing local points of contact within the department for the public to report possible election fraud and voting rights violations while the polls are open. Federal law protects against such crimes as intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, impersonating voters, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes and marking ballots for voters against their wishes or without their input, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
It also contains special protections for the rights of voters and provides that they can vote free from acts that intimidate or harass them, the office stated. For example, actions of persons designed to interrupt or intimidate voters at polling places by questioning or challenging them, or by photographing or videotaping them, under the pretext that these are actions to uncover illegal voting, may violate federal voting rights law.
Further, federal law protects the right of voters to mark their own ballot or to be assisted by a person of their choice, according to the release.
“Americans have a right to expect fair, open and honest elections: it’s a cornerstone of our democracy,” said FBI Pittsburgh Acting Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel. “We know we have adversaries, foreign and domestic, who are very aggressive and have an interest in providing disinformation to disrupt our political process. That’s why the FBI, along with its state, local and other federal partners, will continue to work together to make sure the integrity of our elections is secure.”
In order to respond to complaints of election fraud or voting rights abuses on June 9, and to ensure that such complaints are directed to the appropriate authorities, Stuart and Powell stated that Goes and Warner will be on duty while the polls are open.
Goes can be reached at 304-340-2200, and Warner can be reached at 304-636-1739.
In addition, the FBI will have special agents available to receive allegations of election fraud and other election abuses on June 9.
The FBI can be reached by the public at 800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5342). Complaints about possible violations of the federal voting rights laws can be made directly to the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section in Washington, D.C. by phone at 800-253-3931 or (202) 307-2767; by email; or by a complaint form that can be found here.