CHARLESTON, WV (WBOY) – West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner is urging voters to closely follow absentee ballot instructions to ensure their votes count in the 2020 primary election.

According to a press release, an unprecedented number of West Virginians have chosen to vote by absentee ballot in the upcoming election.

Due to COVID-19, people with health and safety concerns can request an absentee ballot by mail for the June 9 primary election. Voters also have the option to cast their ballots in-person during early voting, from May 27 to June 6, and on Election Day, June 9, which is now recognized as a state holiday, the release states.

To date, more than 115,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, which is on pace to soon pass a quarter of the number of people who voted in the 2016 primary.

“Because so many are looking to vote absentee, I want to remind everyone to closely follow the instructions provided with the ballot,” Warner said. “It is easy to make mistakes on a paper ballot, such as circling a name instead of filling in the oval, or checking the box as instructed. If not filled out properly, that specific vote may not be counted as intended.”

Warner also noted that people who vote absentee do not have the advantage of experienced poll workers who usually assist them at the voting precincts with instructions and answering questions. They will also not have access to ballot marking devices, which are located at many precincts and programmed to fill in the oval properly, eliminating improper and stray marks that can invalidate a vote, according to the release.

In previous West Virginia elections, fewer than 3% of voters did so by absentee. The remaining 97% of people voted in-person.

Because of coronavirus and the current state of emergency, Warner said he has worked with the state’s 55 county clerks to send all 1.2 million registered voters an application to vote by absentee ballot, if preferred by the voter.

When voting by absentee ballot, Warner advises voters to:

  • Read the instructions for each race: A ballot will be counted with an under-vote, but it is not OK to vote for more candidates than allowed. For example, if a voter is permitted to “vote for up to two” in a particular race, then participants can vote for zero, one or two candidates. Do not mark more than two (over-voting), or that race will not be counted on the ballot.
  • Read the name of every candidate before voting: Voters are encouraged to vote one race at a time. Read every name of each candidate running in that race, and then vote.
  • Mark the ballot as instructed: Voters should follow the directions on the ballot to mark their choice(s) for each office.
  • Be sure to sign the return envelope: Voters who have assistance completing the ballot need to make sure the person who helped signs in the appropriate place, as well.
  • Complete the ballot and mail it back in time: For an absentee ballot to be counted, the envelope must be postmarked on or before June 9. County clerks encourage voters to return ballots as soon as possible. Early return will enable clerks to begin verifying signatures, dividing ballots according to precincts and other administrative tasks that will speed up tallying votes on Election Day.

Warner said to direct questions or concerns about absentee ballots to county clerks’ offices. Voters who make a mistake and want to “spoil” that ballot should contact their county clerk. Anyone who receives an absentee ballot and then decides to vote in person should take that ballot to the poll so it can be accounted for and then spoiled, the release states.

Visit the Frequently Asked Questions tab on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website to find answers to common questions and for more information about absentee voting.

“The very essence of democracy is casting a vote and having that vote count. It’s now up to each voter to follow the instructions properly, so their voice is heard,” Warner said.