All your questions about voting in the 2020 General Election answered

BUCKHANNON – Casting your ballot in the November 2020 General Election is as easy as one, two, three in West Virginia this year. In fact, there are three solid ways of doing so, Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith explained this week.

Methods of voting for county, state and national offices in the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election include in person at your polling precinct on Election Day; during the in-person early voting period at the Upshur County Courthouse; and via an absentee ballot that may be mailed or hand-delivered to the Upshur County Clerk’s office on the first floor of the Upshur County Courthouse.

We talked with Smith about each of these methods, and she explained the answers to some frequently asked questions surrounding voting – in particular, how absentee voting works in the Mountain State.  

Vote in-person on Election Day

Polls will be open statewide from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, and Smith said she doesn’t plan on consolidating any precincts at this time.

“My plan currently is to keep the precincts just as they are,” Smith said.

Find your polling place on West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s website by clicking here.

Depending on if you’re a regular voter or a first-time voter, you’ll be asked for some form of ID. Regular voters have wider leeway regarding what type they choose: a valid photo ID, such as a driver’s license or state ID card are acceptable, but they may also use a utility bill if the address is correct, a bank statement and other documents.

However, first-time voters – both early and Election Day – are required to provide proof of one of the following: a valid photo ID, a utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck or any other official government document. More information about voter ID is online here: https://sos.wv.gov/elections/Pages/BeReg.aspx.

“The law is very broad in terms of what regular voters have to show for ID, but first-time voters have to show one of a list of more specific IDs,” Smith said.

Vote early

Registered voters may vote early in person during a 10-day period leading up to Election Day beginning Wednesday, Oct. 21 and ending Saturday, Oct. 31. Vote at the Upshur County Courthouse between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 31.

Vote absentee

Earlier this month, Warner announced West Virginia voters who prefer to vote absentee in the 2020 General Election could begin requesting/applying for absentee ballots from their county clerk Aug. 11.

All requests must be made by Oct. 28, 2020 – the last day to submit an application for an absentee ballot.

Warner’s office wrote that, “because of the current COVID-19 pandemic State of Emergency, all voters confined to their home during the in-person voting period because of COVID-19 concerns may apply to vote absentee. The absentee application has been updated for the General Election, and voters should simply select the first option on the application, ‘Illness, injury or other medical reason which keeps me confined (includes concerns of COVID-19)’ as their reason for voting absentee.”

The Secretary of State’s new Absentee Application Ballot Portal enables voters to apply online for an absentee ballot by entering their name, birth date and county of residence. Starting Sept. 18, county clerks will begin mailing out postage-prepaid absentee ballots to anyone whose application for an absentee ballot has been approved, Smith said.

“You can request one now in anticipation of September 18,” she said.

Smith detailed the procedure once the county clerk’s office receives an application for an absentee ballot.

“Once we receive absentee ballot, we verify the name, birth date, address, if the person is registered to vote, and we check the signature on voter registration record,” Smith said. “Provided all that information is correct, then we mail the ballot with ballot supplies and instructions.”  

Absentee voters are sent two envelopes, an outer one with their name and address printed on it and a blank, white inner one. Voters may hand-deliver their absentee ballot to the county clerk’s office, but they’re required to do so by Nov. 2, the day prior to the election, for it to be counted.

Absentee ballots mailed without a postmark will be accepted through Nov. 4, the day after the election. In addition, absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, must be received in the county clerk’s office by Nov. 9 at the start of the canvassing process.

“When we get the ballot back in the mail or in person, we actually separate the return envelope from the inner envelope containing the ballot so that when they’re counted, there’s no way to know whose ballot it is,” Smith said. “The integrity of the ballot is very important to me, and I take that very, very seriously.”

When a ballot is returned to the county clerk’s office, Smith’s staff again checks that the signature on the external envelopes matches the one on file.

“It’s very important to follow all of the instructions and complete the return ballot envelope because that’s how we verify who voted that ballot,” Smith said.

The SOS’s website posted an informational video outlining exactly how absentee voting works: https://sos.wv.gov/elections/Pages/AbsenteeBallotRequestPortalVideo.aspx. You can even track your absentee ballot through the new absentee ballot portal.

A few frequently asked questions

Where can absentee ballots be returned and by whom?

Smith said ballots may be hand-delivered to the Upshur County Clerk’s Office in person by Monday, Nov. 2. Any one person may only return two ballots, and that’s not ‘at a time,’ – that’s for this entire election cycle, she said. If mailing an absentee ballot, it must be received by either Nov. 4 without a postmark or by Nov. 9 with an Election Day-Nov. 3 postmark.

When is the last day to register to vote for the Nov. 3 General Election?

The last day to register to vote is Oct. 13, and more information about how to do so can be found online here. https://ovr.sos.wv.gov/Register/Landing

Is there a difference between a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot?

Smith said yes.

“The easiest way to sum it up is, when you vote with an absentee ballot, you are having to request that a ballot be sent to you,” she said. “I understand that with [statewide] mail-in voting, a ballot is automatically mailed to the address the county clerk’s office or election officials have on file in their list of registered voters.”

How do I know my ballot is secure if I vote absentee?

Once the blank envelope containing a voter’s ballot is separated from the external envelope, Smith said ballots are stores in locked ballot boxes in a locked room that only the county commission president and two other individuals in the county clerk’s office have keys for.

They stay there until election officials are permitted to begin tabulating absentee ballots on the first day of early voting, Oct. 21.

“They are secured, and the easiest way to explain it is to say that they’re kept in a locked box in a room that requires two different people to access,” Smith said. “No one person has access to ballots before they’re counted.”

Smith says she’s urging voters with questions or concerns to reach out.

“The biggest thing is, my office is more than happy to answer questions, so please call and we’ll provide you with information directly,” she said. “Let us try to help you as best as we can. I take the integrity of the ballot very, very seriously, so if someone’s touting something, call and get the facts. We’ll explain to you how it’s supposed to work.”

What COVID-19 precautions will be taken to prevent any potential spread of infection?

Gloves will be provided, and voting machines will be disinfected frequently.

“We are providing face shields and masks for our poll workers and asking voters to wear masks, but we can’t prevent them from voting if they refuse to wear one,” Smith said.

How can I volunteer to be a poll worker?

If you would like to sign up to be a poll worker, contact the county clerk’s office at 304-472-1068 and provide your name, address and political party (the county clerk’s office is required to put opposing party members beside each other at precincts).

“I always need poll workers,” Smith said. “Even if I already have enough poll workers, I can always, always use alternates.”

To read more about voting in West Virginia, visit the W.Va. Secretary of State’s site, www.govotewv.com or check out county clerk’s website.

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