BUCKHANNON – West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner wants West Virginians who plan on voting absentee to make like a Nike commercial and “just do it.”
Warner stopped in Upshur County Tuesday afternoon as part of his effort to touch base with county clerks across the Mountain State about how the revised the request process for absentee ballots is progressing ahead of the Nov. 3 General Election.
“Don’t wait; do it now,” Warner said, summing up his message to voters who wish to vote absentee. “Vote your ballot and be done with it, and that way, we’re not worried about the mail – put it in the mailbox. If you do it now, there’s plenty of time for that absentee ballot to be counted. The county clerk will have it to you by next week if you request it today.”
On his way into courthouse to visit Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith, Warner estimated about 68,000 West Virginians had already requested absentee ballots through the Secretary of State’s new online portal at GoVoteWV.com. That figure far surpasses the number of voters who had requested absentee ballots about this many days out from the June 9 Primary Election.
“We’re still 50 days out,” he said. “We’re much further ahead (more people have requested absentee ballots that at this point prior to the primary), but the clerks don’t anticipate quite as many this time around. People realize we had a safe primary and want to go vote in person.”
Absentee ballots will be mailed out starting this Friday, Sept. 18, and Warner is encouraging West Virginia residents who are using that method to vote early.
But regardless of how you’re voting – absentee, early or on Election Day – Warner said that’s a decision West Virginia’s approximately 1.2 million registered voters should make now.
“The key here is for people to decide right now, early on – how do you want to vote,” he told My Buckhannon. “If it’s absentee, request it. If it’s early voting, know where your satellite voting location is. If it’s Election Day, we want you to know that we intend to have all 1,708 precincts open across the state to make it easy for people to get to.”
“With the number of people voting absentee and early, we don’t anticipate long lines,” he added.
Warner said the Secretary of State’s office recommends voting in person but, at the same time, understands people’s COVID-19-related worries.
“That’s what we recommend – if you can vote in person, do it,” he said. “It’s the gold standard across the globe: People vote in person, but if you do have the concern about COVID-19, we want people to vote absentee; we simply ask you to do it early — right now.”
Warner, a Republican who is facing a challenge from Democrat Natalie Tennant, said West Virginia’s June 9 primary was “the safest in the nation,” noting no contracted COVID-19 cases were traced back to voting in-person.
Still, he realizes there was room for improvement after listening to feedback from county clerks, who asked to nix mailing out postcards to all registered voters. In response, Warner’s office has developed an online absentee ballot portal – and an accompanying tutorial – that he said is intended to make the absentee ballot process smoother.
“Afterwards, it’s still like when you win a football game, you still go back and look at the tape and see where somebody missed a block or didn’t get a read or whatever,” Warner said. “The county clerks said to me, ‘Don’t send out the applications like we did to everybody in the primary.’”
That’s because some postcards mailed out weren’t used, others came back as undeliverable, and tracking their arrival and return was time-consuming for the clerks, he explained.
“What they asked for this time was a better system where they didn’t have to log all those out and back in, and what we did is leverage technology, and that’s what this electronic portal is about,” Warner said. “So, if you haven’t asked for an absentee ballot and you want one, you go to govotewv.com, it says ‘Request an Absentee Ballot’ and you send [the request] in electronically, so they’re not doing that data entry at the county courthouses so it’s a more efficient system and less expensive.”
The new process enables county clerks to simply print out the requests, verify voter information and mail ballots to the specified address.
“What I’m doing is getting out and talking to the clerks and making sure it’s working the way they anticipated it working, and so far, it is, and they’re very happy with it,” he said.
Warner said he’s also been prepping for in-person voting during the 10-day early voting period – Saturday, Oct. 21 through Saturday, Oct. 31 – and on Election Day. Early voters, who may cast their ballots from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, will get ‘I voted early’ pens or styluses instead of stickers. Additionally, plenty of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment in the form of masks and face shields will be on hand.
“People can look forward to that,” Warner said of the pens. “Whatever it takes to get people to come vote, that’s what we want – more people to participate.”
While 9,000 poll workers have already committed to working polls on Election Day, the Secretary of State’s office has enlisted an additional 1,300 volunteers who will serve as auxiliary or alternate poll workers.
And if anyone has other questions, Warner recommends consulting Smith or his website.
“The best resource is right there – Carol Smith,” he said, pointing to the courthouse. “That would be a great summation here: We want people to talk to their county clerks. There’s no one who knows the election law better in Upshur County than Carol Smith. If anybody has a question about a polling location, a date, a time, deadlines, how to register, any of those variables, talk to the county clerk.”
For additional details about voting in Upshur County, check out the County Clerk’s website here. On Election Day, polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. across the state.
Important dates from Warner’s office ahead of the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election:
- August 11 – October 28, 2020 – Eligible voters may apply for a General Election ballot by mail.
- September 18, 2020 – County clerks begin mailing absentee ballots to those who have applied.
- October 8 – 14, 2020 – Sample ballots published in local newspapers throughout the state (publication dates will vary by county).
- October 13, 2020 – Voter Registration Deadline
- October 21 – October 31, 2020 – Early Voting at the county courthouse, annex or designated community voting location during normal business hours and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- October 27 – November 2, 2020 – Official List of Candidates or Sample Ballot published in local newspapers throughout the state (publication dates will vary by county).
- October 28, 2020 – Deadline for Absentee by Mail Application. Absentee applications received after October 28, even if postmarked, cannot be accepted by law.
- November 2, 2020 – Deadline to hand-deliver Absentee Ballot to County Clerk’s office.
- November 3, 2020 – General Election Day: Polls open 6:30 a.m. to 7: 30 p.m. and absentee ballots must be postmarked.
- November 9, 2020 – (Canvass) – Absentee Ballots postmarked by Election Day accepted if received by start of Canvass.