In Tuesday’s debate against Democratic candidate Joe Biden, President Trump said — without offering evidence — that mail workers in West Virginia were dumping ballots into rivers and also selling ballots. However, only one instance of election fraud was reported in West Virginia’s primary election and Trump’s comments drew reactions from top officials in the state.
In debate comments, Trump was apparently referring to a Pendleton County mailman who admitted to changing the party choice on five absentee ballot applications in May, notably from Democrat to Republican. On three other ballots, the mail carrier circled Republican despite that choice already being checked.
There have been no reported instances of actual ballots being changed, destroyed, sold or thrown in rivers in the state’s June primary.
Secretary of State Mac Warner said in a Wednesday news release, that the “timely prosecution” of the mailman was an example of the state’s voter fraud prevention system working effectively.
“We have conducted extensive training with clerks and election officials, covering everything from cyber security, to continuity of operations, to preventing and detecting fraud,” he said.
But Warner also echoed worry over election fraud come November. He said strategies like deterring, investigating and prosecuting are all ways to mitigate election fraud, adding that West Virginia has implemented the strategies.
Natalie Tennant, former West Virginia Secretary of State and the Democrat candidate for the post, said in a news release that West Virginia absentee voting is safe and secure, She added that Trump’s false statements are a form of “voter suppression” as they are spreading misinformation and “fear.”
“A mailman did not sell ballots. He altered request forms and was caught,” Tennant said.
In Gov. Jim Justice’s COVID-19 briefing Wednesday he was asked to comment on Trump’s claims. Justice briefly addressed the statements, but pivoted to the debate as a whole.
“We’re always concerned about fraud…Way more important than that, just to tell it like it is, I was really disappointed in the debate in every way,” Justice said.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said in a statement that Trump’s claims of mail-in voter fraud in the state are “plain wrong.”
Most election security experts say voter fraud, including incidents with mail-in voting, is extremely rare. In West Virginia, altering ballots is a felony offense, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The state is expected to break records for mail-in voting this election.