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Warner: Election task force uncovers ballot fraud scheme

CHARLESTON — An alleged absentee ballot fraud scheme has been referred for prosecution, according to Secretary of State Mac Warner.

Allegations of the scheme were investigated by the West Virginia Election Fraud Task Force, a multi-agency law enforcement effort, Warner said. Last month, Warner and U.S. Attorneys Bill Powell and Mike Stuart, of the Northern and Southern districts of West Virginia, respectively, announced the formation of the task force.

The case was referred to a U.S. Attorney, Warner said.

“Our primary strategy is to deter and prevent election fraud from taking place. I prefer compliance with the law over criminal convictions,” Warner said. “But those who try to meddle with our elections will be held accountable. That is certainly the case with the allegations presented today to the U.S. Attorney.”

County clerks, to provide a way for people to safely vote during the pandemic, mailed information about absentee voting to every registered voter in West Virginia. The increase in absentee ballots comes with a natural increase in opportunities for fraud, Warner said.

Due to a quick response by investigators, the scheme was uncovered early and will not have an impact on the outcome of the election.

“Even the slightest allegation of fraud can reduce public confidence in the process and the outcome of our election,” Warner said.

Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes said Friday he was unaware of any problems in this area.

“I have not been advised of anything around here,” Rhodes said.

In Wood County, about 10,000 residents requested an absentee ballot, of which about 6,300 have been returned to be tabulated in the primary election returns, a much greater number than in other elections, Rhodes said. The number of absentee voting will affect the number of voters who will cast their ballots during early voting, he said.

Early voting in West Virginia begins Wednesday. Primary election day is June 6, which was moved earlier this year from May because of the pandemic.

More information about the alleged fraud would have been helpful for clerks to alert them to possible issues, Rhodes said.

State law prohibits the Secretary of State from disclosing facts or details of an investigation, a release from Warner said.

West Virginia through the Investigations Division in the office of the Secretary of State operates the Election Fraud Tip Line at 1 877 FRAUD-WV where anonymous complaints of fraud and illegal activity can be made around the clock.

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