If West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner is prohibited by law from sharing details with the general public, as he says, then why did he go out of his way to announce that a voter fraud investigation associated with absentee ballots had been turned over to the federal prosecutors? The innuendo was thick, but what was his point? Or rather, what is his agenda?

Let’s be clear. Warner’s job in these matters is to deliver democracy in the form of a clean election and not to tarnish a method of voting that has proven popular and scandal free. His job and those of county clerks all across the state is to make the trains run on time, to adequately staff polling places and to give all voters the opportunity to cast a ballot – safely – even from the comfort of their own home. Citizens of the state agree as 220,000 of them, 18 percent of all registered voters, requested an absentee ballot.

Curious, we think, that Warner’s delusive hint of electoral troubles comes at a time when other Republican politicians – up to and including our president and governor – are railing against efforts by states to make wider use of mail-in paper ballots during a pandemic. Armed with no facts or study, President Trump tweeted this past Wednesday, “Tremendous potential for voter fraud.” And at an April 23 news conference, Gov. Jim Justice said this: “The level of corruption with absentee is rampant.”

Balderdash, governor.

Voter fraud is a fake. Trump, Justice and Warner know that. So why mislead the electorate? Why cause doubt and, in doing so, undermine the integrity of the most basic exercise of a free and open democracy? And for our own secretary of state to be broadcasting the message, without evidence, leading up to early voting, well, it smacks of a lame attempt at voter suppression.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, yes, it is an attempt to disenfranchise targeted populations of the voting public – primarily, people who have a history of voting for Democrats.

But despite the hyperbole, such fraud barely exists. The state of Oregon, for example, has provided more than 100 million mail-in ballots to voters since 2000 and has documented a grand total of 12 cases of fraud. Similarly, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, “an exhaustive investigative journalism analysis of all known voter fraud cases identified 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud from 2000 to 2012” – an eight-year period during which billions of votes were cast.

When our elected leaders side with negligible examples of voter fraud against the potential impact of a pandemic on your health, well, that’s a pretty clear signal about who these folks are most interested in – and it isn’t you.

If West Virginia did not allow absentee voting on a grand scale, we would have had close to a quarter of a million people who may not have bothered, who may have divorced themselves from the democratic process this trip around the sun. There is nothing American about that.

Is that what Warner, Justice and Trump want? Probably.

They are probably hypnotized, frozen by fear of surveys that indicate Democrats receive more favorable outcomes as the voting process is simplified, as the Seattle Times reported recently. But dozens of states have more accessible voting methods already in place, with 38 allowing early voting, 35 allowing absentee ballots and five relying on a mail-in system to conduct their elections. And guess what? Republicans are elected to every level of government in those states, including those that allow their citizens to vote primarily by mail.

Go just across the river to Ohio where Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both Republicans, are encouraging people to vote by mail – a direct contradiction to how it’s playing out here in the Mountain State.

Voter suppression in the U.S. has been on the rise after a surge of voter interest and participation in the presidential election of 2008 that helped carry Barack Obama, this nation’s first black elected president, into office. In 2004, the voter participation gap between White and African-American voters was 6.9 percent. In 2008 it was 0.9 percent.

The response? More than 30 states introduced voter suppression legislation in 2011 and 16 states passed such measures, making it harder for Americans to participate in our democracy. That ignoble effort continues to this day, and it must stop.

In this era of learning how to live in the midst of a pandemic, we need to encourage any means by which we can capture safely the full voice of democracy.

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