The following editorial appears in The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Times-News.
The spectacle Tuesday — and deep into the night — at polling stations in Georgia should put all West Virginia election officials on notice that we citizens demand free, fair and accommodating elections — at all times, not just in this era of a pandemic.
To accommodate that basic right of democracy, state officials — beginning with Secretary of State Mac Warner — need to move expeditiously toward assuring absentee voting for one and all in the general election this November and beyond.
Citizens have already shown their preference for this. Leading up to Tuesday’s primary, more than a quarter million West Virginians — 262,362 by Warner’s own count — requested an absentee ballot. And by the time election day arrived, 210,749 — or 17.2 percent of registered voters — cast an absentee ballot.
Forget the noise coming this spring from Warner, Gov. Jim Justice and President Trump about the potential for voter fraud. As Justice said at an April 23 news conference, “The level of corruption with absentee is rampant.” (Fair warning: We have not heard the last of this claptrap.) Of course Justice didn’t offer any evidence, statistics or anecdotes of voter fraud because it is extremely rare and has become a Republican scare tactic to keep demographic slices of our population away from the ballot box. It’s a simple case of those in power attempting to stay in power by whatever means possible — even if it deprives you of your most basic and cherished constitutional right.
And what became of voter fraud this election cycle?
One case, a mail carrier who apparently altered party requests on eight ballots. Bottom line: The alleged criminal activity was caught by local election officials — just as they are trained to do.
But what happened in Georgia — and has been happening there for a while — is of greater concern.
Hours-long waits, problems with new voting machines and a lack of available ballots plagued the process in majority minority counties on Tuesday — conditions the secretary of state called “unacceptable.”
In plain English, we call it voter suppression in black neighborhoods.
Voting issues have tarnished that state’s credibility for years and have called into the question the legitimacy of election wins by some of that state’s officials — like its governor. It’s not a good look for a state that suddenly, because of a demographic shift, is turning into a presidential battleground and will be attracting bushel baskets of media attention in the run up to the election.
Clearly, West Virginia is not nor will it be this fall a swing state. But who can say how the governor’s race or that for secretary of state will be decided in the Mountain State come November? West Virginians, after all, have elected Democrats for governor previously. Just ask Justice.
And given the fact that the coronavirus pandemic will still be with us at that time, why not let voters make their selections from the comfort and safety of their own kitchen table instead of standing in line for hours in the heat, humidity and rain as what happened at some precincts in and around Atlanta on Tuesday?
We have even heard voters say that in addition to their stay-at-home preference while a highly contagious disease is making the rounds, they like having the ability to research each race and each candidate, leading them to make more informed decisions. God forbid that a more fully informed citizenry should threaten to give us a stronger democracy and, just maybe, improved governance.
That, in and of itself, should be cause to institute mail-in ballots permanently.