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Northern Panhandle Elections Officials See No Problems With Mail-In Voting

Photo by Joselyn King A voter waits outside the Ohio County Elections Office in Wheeling to cast his ballot during early voting before the rescheduled primary election in June.

WHEELING — Local election officials say voting by mail is a secure process, but traditional methods still exist if voters don’t want to do it.

Casting an in-person ballot by early voting or going to the polls on Election Day remain safe options despite the coronavirus epidemic, election officials said this week.

Jeanne Ostrander, election clerk at the Hancock County Clerk’s Office, said she received many calls, mostly from people who spoke disapprovingly of voting by mail, but nevertheless requested an absentee ballot.

“The voters seem to be scared out of wits,” she said. “They hear post offices are closing and laying off employees, and Facebook doesn’t make it any easier. People are panicking over the issue but still requesting absentee ballots.

“What I tell people is if you’re worried, come in and vote in person. We’re here. We’re not closing.”

The concerns over the speed in which mail-in ballots would be sent and received come after reports indicated the U.S. Postal Service was removing mailboxes at certain locations and sorting machines from distribution centers across the country.

Recently-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has pushed to overhaul the postal service, backtracked this week, saying no additional changes would be made until after the upcoming election.

All registered voters in the state will not receive an absentee ballot application for the Nov. 3 general election as they did for the primary election in the spring. The applications must be requested this election cycle.

Earlier this month, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office set up an absentee ballot request portal at GoVoteWV.com.

As of Friday, more than 18,000 requests were received through the online portal, while another 11,664 were received by county clerks offices across the state as of Wednesday.

All registered voters in West Virginia are permitted to vote absentee this election. They need only to check the option box on the application that states, “Illness, injury or other medical reason which keeps me confined (includes concerns of COVID-19).”

Those choosing to vote in-person at the polls, meanwhile, will be required to wear masks. Hand sanitizer will be prevalent at the polls, and voters will be given a clean Q-Tip to touch their voting screens, according to elections officials.

The procedures for in-person voting aren’t changing much from what they were during the primary election, said Marshall County Clerk Jan Pest.

She said everything went smoothly with mail-in voting then and she doesn’t anticipate problems for the general election.

“I don’t know if more or less we’ll vote by mail this time — but we handled it for the primary,” she said. “I’m not nearly as worried as I was for the primary election.”

Pest said voting by mail is safe in West Virginia as state laws are very specific and tight about procedures by election officials.

“People would really have to try and cheat, I mean really,” she said. “No one is going to risk going to jail or anything just to get one extra vote for somebody.

“I know I’m not going to ruin my reputation just to see somebody get an extra vote or two.”

In Wetzel County, Clerk Carol Haught said she also has been receiving many calls from the public concerned about voting procedures.

“I have every confidence in it (voting by mail),” she said. “There is lots of hysteria right now and I’m getting call after call after call. There are groups out there confusing people — whoever they are.

“But every clerk is going to take the utmost care to mail out ballots requests, process every vote and make every effort to account for every ballot.”

Brooke County Clerk Kimberly Barbetta said her office has always processed mail-in ballots, though not to the magnitude happening in 2020.

She said instead of mailing their absentee ballot people can always return it to the clerk’s office, then receive a receipt from an employee.

“If they are uncomfortable voting by mail, I also would encourage people to vote early in person or at the polls,” she said.

Toni Chieffalo, coordinator of elections in Ohio County, said an administrator at the post office in Wheeling contacted her frequently during the primary election season to make certain there were no seen problems with mailed-in ballots being received.

“We’ve never had any issues with the post office,” she said. “Maybe in the bigger cities, but here it is not a problem.”

She said about 7,700 ballots were mailed out by the office prior to the primary election, and more than 7,000 of these were returned. She expects those who didn’t return their ballot instead went on to vote at the polls.

“We got over 7,000 ballots back with no problem,” she said. “I think it worked well then.”

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