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Dropbox plans move forward

PARKERSBURG — Wood County officials are moving forward with plans to have a dropbox built in the hope state officials would allow its use in being able to collect absentee ballots.

Kathy Stoltz of Wood County League of Women Voters appeared before the Wood County Commission on Monday to discuss the issues facing many voters in the upcoming general election with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and more.

She said many people involved in the local and state organizations have been meeting, via Zoom, telephone and more to see what can be done to make things easier for voters in the upcoming election.

The League supports the idea of having dropboxes where people can drop off a completed absentee ballot.

“It would make things so much more convenient for people to return those if they are concerned about the mail or it is getting late in the process,” Stoltz said.

She admitted there were a lot of issues at play, but was glad the commission was addressing it to see if something could be worked out.

County officials have been told that a dropbox was not permitted currently under state code. However, they believed it could be permitted if the governor declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic.

A dropbox would be permitted if the state was under a stay-at-home order and the courthouse was effectively closed.

The commission has since asked the governor to issue an executive order to be able to allow the use of a dropbox.

County Clerk Mark Rhodes said earlier this year the state was under a stay-at-home order, but that has been changed to a safer-at-home order where some of the restrictions have been relaxed.

“I have basically been told that if the courthouse is open then no dropbox,” he said. “If everything was closed then we could have a dropbox at the courthouse as long as it was manned.”

Commission President Blair Couch said they are moving forward with the construction of a dropbox in the hopes its use will be approved.

“We hope that by letters to the governor and the Secretary of State, stating that we are under a state of emergency,” he said of the necessity of having dropboxes available.

They also want to put small dropboxes in local city buildings where people can drop off ballots so they don’t have to come down to the courthouse.

Officials have been looking at how other places are addressing the issue. They found a place where a county in another part of the country had a drop-off station where people could drop it off to a designated representative at a particular location. Wood County officials said it would essentially have to be manned by two poll workers, one Democrat and one Republican, to work.

Also, officials are moving forward with plans to have all 68 voting precincts in the county open. Rhodes said there are 68 precincts at 42 locations around the county.

“That is a lot of people,” Couch said adding they would still have the early vote locations open to be able to spread people out.

“We know there are people … who don’t want to be in a crowded space and will want to vote by mail,” Couch said.

Early voting is scheduled to begin at the Judge Black Annex on Oct. 21. Early voting stations in the different communities around the county will start a week before Election Day.

“We can’t start Early Voting early,” Couch said.

Stoltz had hoped that all registered voters would get an application to vote by mail again, like they did in the primary.

“All of us were dismayed that the same process that was in place for the primary was not repeated for the general in mailing out absentee ballot applications to everyone,” she said.

Now, people have to take it upon themselves and request an absentee ballot application from their county clerk or from the Secretary of State’s office. Some groups are getting their members signed up through different efforts.

“Not every voter is getting the same treatment in this election,” Stoltz said.

There is a website through the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, GoVoteWV.com where people can request an absentee ballot and check to see if an absentee ballot was received, officials said.

Rhodes said the absentee ballots should start being mailed out Friday, Sept. 18.

Officials are advising people to vote them as soon as they get them and mail them back to give plenty of time to get back to the County Clerk’s office. People are advised to give it a week and then they can call the office to make sure their ballot was received, Rhodes said.

Ballots, postmarked the day of the election and before, should be received by the county before the commission meets as the canvassing board to count the remaining ballots and certify the results.

“The whole goal right now is to vote early,” Couch said. “Get your absentee ballot in early.”

Stoltz said the mail is a concern for a lot of people as some delays in service have started appearing. She has also said mail has gotten through without a postmark.

Officials said if they get it the day after the election, it should be counted.

Couch said if people vote the absentee ballots early enough, it should get in within a certain amount of time. People can check with the clerk’s office to make sure it has been received.

If it hasn’t, provisions are in place for the voter to vote a provisional ballot to be reviewed by the commission. If the original ballot would show up, officials can disregard the provisional ballot.

Once the ballots are mailed out, people can drop them off at the Clerk’s office with limited interaction, Couch added.

If a dropbox is available people can drop off the ballot in the evening. If not, Stoltz would like to see extended hours for the Clerk’s office in the evening and on a Saturday.

“I want the options to be there for people,” she said.

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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