Smith: Secretary of state urging voters with COVID-19 concerns to use absentee ballots

BUCKHANNON – West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner is encouraging people to take advantage of absentee ballots and early voting prior to the May 12 Primary Election in the Mountain State.

Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith said the Tuesday, May 12 election is still occurring, with early voting beginning April 29.

“The secretary is suggesting that due to the state of emergency related to the coronavirus, as many people as possible request an absentee ballot, and they can do that by either going to his website, wvsos.gov, and there’s an absentee ballot application,” Smith said. “They can go to our website at upshurcounty.org, and on the County Clerk tab, I have applications. If they are not able to download or print an application, call my office. We will send an application to them in the mail.”

She said the application needs to be filled out by the applicant and then under item for reason in Section 4 of the form, which asks the reason, the voter checks the first box, which is “illness, injury or other medical reason which keeps me confined.”

“Secretary Warner said the possibility of being able to contract COVID-19 is a reason enough to cite medical reasons,” Smith said.

According to a press release on the W.Va. Secretary of State’s website, voters who “do not wish to vote in person due to the Coronavirus” are eligible to request an absentee by mail ballot.

Smith said voters can’t fill out the application online, so people will need to print the application off, fill it out and email, fax or mail it to the Upshur County Clerk’s office, the address for which is 40 W. Main St., Room 101, Buckhannon, WV 26201.

The application must be filled out in the voter’s own handwriting, and anyone may request/apply for an absentee ballot from now until May 6.

“My suggestion would be this: Number one, if you can’t scan it and attach it as a separate document (meaning don’t make it part of your email), then try to fax it. However, if you don’t have the option of faxing it, then call me,” Smith said. “I told [some people] if want you to snap a picture and send it to me in a text, I can print from my phone. I would prefer the other routes, if possible, but if not, that is worst-case scenario.”

Smith said even though the Upshur County Courthouse doors are closed, the security officers will still be there, and voters may leave the filled-out application with them and they will take it to the County Clerk’s Office.

“With that being said, we’re going to be getting close to the last day to register to vote, so if people need to register to vote or change their registration or update their address, go to wvsos.gov and you can follow the links for that,” Smith said.

The last day to register to vote in the Mountain State is April 21, and residents may register at GoVoteWV.com.

The form to register to vote can also be found on the County Clerk’s or the County’s website.

“We’ve actually given the security officers out front the absentee ballot application along with an envelope to return them in,” Smith said. “I’ve also given them a supply of voter registration forms, so if somebody wants to register to vote, they can fill that out and send that in, so I’m trying to make it as accessible as I can.”

Once the County Clerk’s office receives the application for an absentee ballot, Smith said the office is required to mail the ballot back to the person who requested it within 24 hours.

“For example, anyone who gets an application by March the 26th, we will process that and begin mailing absentee ballots on March 27,” Smith said.

When returning absentee ballots, voters should keep in mind that they must be post-marked on or before May 12, Election Day, and received by the start of the canvassing process. The last day they may be hand-delivered is Monday, May 11 – the day before the primary election.

She said as of right now, in-person voting will still occur on Election Day; however, if buildings like schools and the fire departments are unavailable, they may have to consolidate to one location.

“We’re looking at what happens if we were to get a directive from the State Board of Education that says absolutely no schools [can be used] as polling places,” Smith said. “Even our Board of Education wouldn’t have any option but to follow that directive, so we’re hoping that doesn’t happen, but you know that’s something that I can’t second-guess.”

She also wanted to emphasize that if anyone needs anything from her office, to please give her a call at 304-472-1068 or email her at cjsmith@upshurcounty.org; however, all in-person interaction will require an appointment.

“We can accomplish things over the phone, we have the ability to email, but if there’s something that needs to be done, please don’t come in – just call me and let us schedule an appointment because they’re not letting people in the doors unless if we have a scheduled appointment,” Smith said. “I realize people have emergencies and unfortunately deaths still occur, people have that kind of business that needs to be taken care of.”

For additional questions, check out the Upshur County Clerk’s website here.

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