$2.8M in coronavirus aid available to West Virginia county clerks for election

CHARLESTON — With the Nov. 3 general election 105 days away, state election officials announced plans for federal coronavirus relief funds to prepare, though the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State said more details need to be released on mail-in absentee voting.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced Monday that $2.8 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Recovery Act was available for all 55 county clerks for expenses related to the pandemic and preparations for the November general election.

“Our successful primary election held during the pandemic came with increased costs and major labor demands on our county clerks,” Warner said in a statement Monday. “Thanks to Congress, the state has the ability to reimburse for increased costs in the general election resulting from the pandemic. This will give counties the ability to offer multiple options to voters to participate during the pandemic without the added worry and financial strain on their budgets.”

C.A.R.E.S. Act funding can be used for reimbursements for the cost of additional absentee ballots and the postage costs associated with mailing ballots and applications. Congress passed the $2 trillion C.A.R.E.S. Act on March 27, which included $400 million in Help America Vote Act emergency funds.

West Virginia received $3.8 million for election expenses related to the coronavirus, with $1.5 million distributed to county clerks. Expenses included printing costs for additional absentee ballots to meet demands, postage costs for mailing applications and ballots to voters, personal protective equipment for county election officials and poll workers, and additional election workers to help process absentee ballots.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, 70 percent of the reimbursed costs were associated with absentee ballots. In the June 9 primary election, West Virginians cast 224,734 absentee ballots, making up nearly 50 percent of all ballots cast. Turnout for the primary was 36.7 percent of the state’s 1.2 million registered voters.

In March, Warner and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced an emergency rule allowing the pandemic to be used as a valid medical excuse to request an absentee ballot as long as the state of emergency called by Gov. Jim Justice on March 16 remained in place. In April, county clerks mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.

The Secretary of State’s Office confirmed Tuesday that the emergency rule is still in effect for the November general election, meaning voters can go to their county clerk or visit GoVoteWV.com to request an absentee ballot application. Starting Aug. 11, voters can mail their absentee ballot applications to their county clerk’s office by Oct. 28.

Warner’s Democratic opponent in the general election, former two-term secretary of state Natalie Tennant, accused Warner of not being clear with voters what the plans are for the November election. She called on Warner to follow the same plan for the November election as was done in the primary.

“Warner is leaving voters in the dark and pulling the rug out from under them by changing the way they voted in the primary election which is causing voter confusion,” Tennant said in a statement Monday. “With more than 250,000 voters requesting ballots in the primary, it is clear West Virginia voters embraced absentee voting by mail. They are now expecting to be mailed the application.”

Mike Queen, communications director for Warner, said state election officials were still working with county clerks and the governor’s office on plans for the November election as coronavirus cases saw their largest spikes this summer. As of Tuesday, there are 1,569 active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia. Justice issued an executive order April 1 moving the state’s primary from May 12 to June 9 to give county election officials time to prepare.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)


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