BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner visited Buckhannon Tuesday to explain details about the General Election coming up on November 3. As ballots start going out this Friday, Warner wants West Virginians to know about changes in the voting process, their options for voting and security details.
Warner and Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith discussed differences between the Primary and General Election this year. “West Virginia had perhaps the best Primary in the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Warner stated. “But just because you won a football game, doesn’t mean you don’t look back at tapes and see how you can do things better.”
The Secretary of State said West Virginia reported zero cases of COVID-19 attributed to the Primary Election. The precincts implemented great personal protective equipment and effective placement of masks, shields and hand sanitizer, according to Warner. However, he explained that the application process did have some problems, as the clerks have to track every application and “a million of them were never used.”
With paper ballots, Warner mentioned multiple different scenarios for human error to occur during data entry, such as omissions, typos or legibility errors, and mailing delays. He explained that having an electronic portal solves those problems and works efficiently. Therefore, applications for absentee ballots will not be sent out to everyone during the General Election like they were for the Primary, and there will not be a drop box for absentee voters. Also, one person can only hand deliver two ballots this time around.
“I want to provide the voters of West Virginia as many options as they can possibly have,” Warner emphasized. For the General Election, West Virginians can fill out an application for an absentee ballot electronically at: govotewv.com. You can also call County Clerk Carol Smith at (304) 472-1068 to request an absentee ballot by mail. The 10-day window to vote early is October 21 to October 31. Of course, West Virginians can still vote in-person on Election Day. Ballots that voters choose to mail in will be processed during the early voting 10-day window from October 21-31 and they will be counted on Election Day.
When asked about security measures, Warner explained the steps being taken to prevent fraud or foreign interference. “There is a layer of security in this voting process,” he explained. Human error can occur, such as ballots or applications being lost in the mailing process, as well as manipulation and overvoting. He explained there are many more opportunities for fraud or irregularities to occur when it comes to paper ballots. “Any number of things can happen when you introduce humans into the process, so that’s why I encourage people to go vote in-person on Election Day. It’s the golden standard. You vote using an electronic marking device, so you can’t overvote,” Warner said. However, he wants to make the voter feel comfortable with their chosen method. “I don’t want people putting their health at risk to use their Constitutional right to vote, so we give you options, but decide early. Get that ballot in so you don’t have to worry about the post office.”
Warner explained his office’s efforts in protecting the election from foreign interference. West Virginia developed the Continued Operations Plan, which lists what precincts should do, step-by-step in various scenarios from active shooter and a chemical spill to a cyber-attack. In 2017, Warner’s office held a training in Morgantown for all the County Clerks to prepare for elections. “West Virginia is on the forefront of doing this kind of training,” he proclaimed. “I feel our Clerks are as prepared, or more prepared, than anybody else in the nation because of this early start we got on this kind of training.”
Some fraudulent situations have reportedly occurred this year, such as overvoting and illegal voting, but Warner said there isn’t mass fraud, “maybe only about a dozen to two dozen cases.” The Election Anti-Fraud Taskforce is a collaborative effort to catch fraud as it occurs, with cooperation from the Secretary of State’s office, the West Virginia Attorney General’s office, the United States Attorney’s office, the Federal Investigations Bureau, West Virginia State Police and the United States Postal Service.
As for interference, it happens all the time, according to Warner. West Virginia has a cyber security expert who is a National Guard asset with top-secret security clearance in place. This individual’s sole function is to watch the West Virginia elections for foreign interference or meddling, and even distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Along with this expert, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, and a number of other state agencies like the West Virginia State Police and the Department of Homeland Security are working together to assure the safety and security of the election.
Warner warns West Virginians to watch what they see and share on social media. He offered this excellent advice to everyone, “Watch for anything on social media, if it excites or irritates you or raises your emotional level one way or another, there’s a good chance it’s coming from the Russians.” He explained that his office has regular discussions with the Department of Homeland Security and said they have found that the Russians tend to favor Trump, the Chinese tend to favor Biden, and the Iranians are going after our democracy. He added that they are sending phishing attacks, posting memes and trying to get Americans to go against each other. “They’re doing psychological operations on us to tear apart the fabrics of our society,” Warner cautioned.
“In 2016, 23% of Americans passed along something on social media thinking it was legitimate, and it actually had been generated by the Russians,” Warner reported. For more information on foreign interference and the state’s efforts to prevent the spread of misinformation, visit https://sos.wv.gov/elections/Documents/ForeignInfluenceUSElections.pdf.
What voters should know
Warner feels it is important for voters to know their options and know the key dates for the 2020 WV General Election. “Trust your County Clerk and the Secretary of State,” Warner urged. “County Clerks are the best source of information, and my office is the second-best source of information. Go to the trusted sources, don’t rely on social media.”
For absentee voters, Warner advises, “As soon as you get that ballot, make an informed decision. I don’t want anyone to rush, but look at the candidates, look at the issues, and then send it in and early to get it over with.”
Warner offers two important recommendations when voting early: do it early to beat the deadlines and follow the directions to avoid confusion, overvoting or other errors. Call the County Clerk with any questions you may still have at (304) 472-1068. Finally, if you suspect anything suspicious, report it by calling 1-877-FRAUDWV.