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Ensuring West Virginians Have Options in Voting

By William Scott Magill

In West Virginia, Veterans make up almost 10% of the population having served in every military branch around the world. The state is also home to major installations including Shepherd Field Air Force base and Yeager Airport Air Force base. With the state’s long history of serving those who serve us with their lives, and even before some Americans worried about polls being open during the coronavirus pandemic, many military personnel worried about how they could safely, confidentially and securely vote when deployed overseas.

Some options such as voting by fax or email completely removes the ability to vote privately — a right that most Americans take for granted.

The three ways people can vote in West Virginia are polling locations in person, mailing their vote in, or voting remotely on their phone or tablet. If you’re disabled or a service member abroad, only the mail-in or remote vote options would work. Which is the easiest, cheapest and safest option to ensure your vote is counted?

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner should be commended for not bowing to pressure to mail ballots to every voter in the database — particularly in light of one West Virginia postal worker’s guilty plea last month to tampering with ballots. This does not mean West Virginians cannot vote by mail, but rather it can be made easy for them to request a ballot. To this end, Mr. Warner also just announced a new online portal for the state’s website that is available now. According to the announcement:

“Collaborating with the state’s 55 county clerks” in July, the Secretary of State’s Office put out a 10-page summary report listing the “planning, administration, and voter participation in the 2020 Primary Election. Upon review, several processes and opportunities were identified to increase the efficiency and ease of administration, reduce voter confusion, and provide a more accessible and expedient manner to request a ballot.”

After the report was released, Warner announced that the state created a simple, free online absentee ballot request portal for the 2020 General Election. Starting Aug. 11, West Virginia voters can request a ballot application using the state’s new Absentee Ballot Application Portal.

Voters asking for a ballot is better than just having thousands of ballots blindly mailed to a state voter roll because people might have moved addresses or passed away since the last election.

Remote voting technologies like that outlined by Safe Vote West Virginia for instance, are a good way for West Virginians to vote using a secure blockchain-based platform from overseas or sitting at home without exposing themselves or others to COVID-19. This is really beneficial to military members stationed abroad or the disabled.

Mail can take a long time especially with the pandemic causing delivery delays. We need good alternatives to snail mail and as a physician, I believe the electronic option introduced in West Virginia in 2018 also offers a secure way to limit exposure to pathogens. Service members deserve to feel comfortable participating in the democratic process.

We only have three months to go before election day, so now is the time to reassure Americans and in particular active military overseas, the disabled and those with concerns about voting in person due to pre-existing conditions that we have a plan in place for them to make their voices heard on election night.

Dr. William Scott Magill served in the Marines and Army Medical Corps as Chief of OB/Gyn at Fort Riley. He is executive director of Veterans in Defense of Liberty with members in West Virginia. He received the Daughters of the American Revolution “Distinguished Citizen Medal Award,” and is a member of the Council for National Policy.

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