Friday, March 27, 2020

West Virginia Secretary of State Lays the Groundwork for a Predominantly Vote-By-Mail Primary on May 12

A week after he made the coronavirus threat a valid excuse for requesting an absentee ballot, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner has announced that the state will help county elections officials with funding the mailing of absentee ballot applications to all Mountain state voters.

No, the date has not changed, but the way in which the May 12 primary (for presidential and other offices) is conducted will be. In-person early and in-person election day voting are still available options at this time, but all West Virginia voters will now have an alternative that will allow them to stay at home and still participate in the primary election.

There are now 46 days until the May 12 primary. In that window of time, the West Virginia secretary of state's office or local county elections officials will have to mail out absentee applications to all of the active voters in the state. One complicating factor on that front is that West Virginians still have until April 21 to register to vote in the upcoming primary. That may entail more than just one mass mailing of absentee applications.

After that voters have to fill out the application, return it via voter-paid postage to the county board and await the ballot's arrival. It is unclear whether voters can continue to use the online application that can be returned to the county board via email or fax and avoid paying postage with the mailed form. Regardless of the method, voters have until May 6 to submit their applications for an absentee ballot.

Once received, the ballot may be filled out and must be returned, postmarked by May 12 (primary election day) to be counted. That means that results will likely be slower in coming in and potentially undetermined until after election day.

West Virginia now joins a raft of other later-voting primary states in shifting in the direction of more widespread vote-by-mail systems in response to the coronavirus threat. The new West Virginia systems mimics the new protocols adopted in states like Georgia, where absentee applications are being mailed to all active voters. Ohio, on the other hand, is sending an informational mailing describing how voters can request an absentee ballot. That contrasts with a state like Alaska where the Democratic Party is allowing its party-run primary voters to download a ballot directly in order to participate.

This is an important point: States and state parties are dealing with the electoral impact the coronavirus presents, but are doing so in a wide range of ways. That will create uneven results for voters across states; more obstacles in some than in others.

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