W.Va. secretary of state says task force uncovered absentee ballot fraud scheme

Baskets of absentee ballots in a county clerk's office about to be sent to West Virginians
By  | 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WHSV) — West Virginia's secretary of state says they're investigating an absentee ballot fraud scheme in the state that was connected to the state's mass effort for absentee voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the start of April, West Virginia county clerk's offices began an effort to mail absentee ballots to every registered voter in the state.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced the plan at the end of March.

Essentially, every voter registered in the state was sent ab absentee ballot application to their registered address.

State leaders encouraged all voters to fill out the applications and submit them to their county clerk in order to receive an absentee ballot for the election, and then mark the ballot according to state instructions by election day. And voters responded, with about 18% of West Virginia's registered voters requesting absentee ballots for the June 9 primary election.

Now, on May 21, Secretary of State Mac Warner announced that his office had investigated a ballot fraud scheme and referred their findings to the United States Attorney for prosecution.

According to Warner, allegations of the scheme were referred to and investigated by the WV Election Fraud Task Force, which is a multi-agency law enforcement effort that was formed in April as a way to deter potential voter and election fraud with upcoming elections. Investigators responded to a complaint quickly, and Warner said the absentee ballot fraud scheme was uncovered early and will have no impact on the outcomes of any elections.

However, West Virginia law prevents Warner from disclosing any facts or details of the investigation.

In late April, as voters began preparing for the state's elections, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued an alert to voters to be wary of potential voter fraud schemes, largely connected to the "ability of fraudsters to steal or manipulate absentee ballots now that more people will use a mail-in, absentee ballot due to social distancing measures."

Warner said an increase in absentee ballots comes with a natural increase in opportunities for fraud.

"Our primary strategy is to deter and prevent election fraud from taking place. I prefer compliance with the law over criminal convictions," Warner said. "But those who try to meddle with our elections will be held accountable. That is certainly the case with the allegations presented today to the U.S. Attorney."

His Investigations Division operates an Election Fraud Tip Line where citizens can call in complaints of possible election fraud and illegal activity 24 hours a day. The anonymous toll-free number is 1-877-FRAUD-WV.

"Even the slightest allegation of fraud can reduce public confidence in the process and the outcome of our election. We won't allow that to happen," said Warner. "Complaints will be investigated and those who commit fraud will be held accountable."

"The Election Fraud Task Force is primed and ready to respond to any allegation of impropriety surrounding the election," Warner said. "If citizens see something that doesn't seem right, please call our tip line at 1-877-FRAUD-WV."

Currently, West Virginians have four ways to vote in the June primaries. This includes being able to vote in person at the polls. County employees say it is still important to vote during the pandemic, no matter what method you choose.