Coronavirus blamed for spike in absentee ballot requests

Deputy county clerks for voter registration Holly Amos, left, and Julie Kincaid, said applications for absentee ballots will be delivered by mail to everyone in the county, in preparation for the May 12 primary.

FAIRMONT — Although the primary election is more than a month away, the coronavirus has caused a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the election, including many voters who’ve said they’re nervous about standing in line with hundreds of others who may be infected.

Julie Kincaid, Marion County deputy clerk for voter registration, said she is not sure what to expect in terms of voter turnout.

“As of this very moment, the election is still going to be held on May 12,” Kincaid said. “Depending on how things go, we can’t even begin to determine what turnout is going to be like, because it will greatly depend on what’s going on with this current health crisis.”

In order to provide voter access, the Marion County Clerk’s office will be sending out applications for absentee ballots en masse, to make sure everyone has the chance to vote, despite the potential continuation of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing.

“We are now offering every registered voter in Marion County a paper absentee ballot,” Kincaid said. “That will be done in the form of a postcard that will be sent out to every registered voter in West Virginia.”

Kincaid said absentee ballots are usually reserved for people who otherwise could not make it to a precinct on election day, but this year has become an exception because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Stay at Home order issued last week by Gov. Jim Justice.

“This used to be reserved for people who were unable to get out of their homes or they travel for different reasons, are away at school; things like that,” Kincaid said. “This is absolutely open to anyone who fears for their health or safety when put in an election day situation.”

While the County Clerk’s office has not yet sent out postcards containing absentee ballot applications, Kincaid said the amount of applications already submitted are coming in in record numbers.

“People already seem to be taking advantage of paper ballot by mail,” Kincaid said. “I can easily say we have had over 500 applications thus far... In a regular election year when there is not a pandemic occurring, we generally have between 600 to 700 absentee requests throughout the entire cycle.”

Marion County has two early voting locations in that will be open prior to May 12. One is in the J. Harper Meredith Building and one is in the White Hall Public Safety Building. She said the number of absentee ballots issued could possibly outnumber the amount of in-person votes cast this year.

“At the present time, we will have two early voting precincts. One in the J. Harper Meredith Building, where we have always had it, and this year we will be having one at the White Hall Public Safety Building,” said Holly Amos, deputy county clerk for voter registration. “We will have many more absentee ballots than we’ve had in the past.”

Kincaid said the absentee ballot application postcards will be sent out by April 6, so people will have ample time to fill out the application before the election takes place. She said her office is prepared to take on the influx of absentee applications, but she is curious about how coronavirus will impact voter turnout this year.

“We are very prepared in the office for this,” Kincaid said. “The Secretary of State has been basically preparing us with meetings, letting us know pretty early out that this is the way the election is probably going to go.

“Considering the overwhelming response with the absentees, I’m anxious to see when it’s all said and done how many we had fulfilled and how many won’t come out on election day.”

Early voting takes place from April 19 through May 9, and May 12 is the primary election.

Email Eddie Trizzino at etrizzino@timeswv.com and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

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News Reporter

Eddie Trizzino has been a reporter with the Times West Virginian since August of 2017, covering the entertainment, business and health beats. He spends most of his time listening to records, going to the movies and strolling through the town.

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