ELKINS — A Pendleton County mailer carrier has been charged with attempted election fraud after allegedly tampering with mail-in ballot applications.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, U.S. Attorney Bill Powell and Secretary of State Mac Warner announced a criminal charge had been filed against the carrier Tuesday in connection with the alleged manipulation of absentee voter requests based upon evidence gathered by an investigator for the Attorney General on behalf of the Secretary of State’s Office.
Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork, stands charged with attempting to defraud the residents of West Virginia of a fair election. An affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint alleges Cooper fraudulently altered eight absentee ballot requests in Pendleton County, of which the complaint states he fraudulently changed the party affiliation on five from Democrat to Republican.
“Manipulating one’s absentee ballot or application is not a laughing matter – it’s a federal offense,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “We must protect the integrity of the ballot box, and this demonstrates the aggressive action we will take to do so.
“ It is more important now than ever for voters to watch for unexplained or suspicious marks and/or any other irregularity with their ballot. If something looks suspicious, let us know right away.”
The affidavit states Cooper accessed the ballot requests through his employment as a rural mail carrier. He was responsible for mail delivery in the three towns from which the tampered requests were mailed – Onego, Riverton and Franklin.
According to the affidavit, Cooper admitted to altering some of the requests.
The alterations were caught by an elections official in the Pendleton County Courthouse, and reported to the state’s Election Fraud Task Force.
Secretary of State Warner noted the alertness and quick reaction by Pendleton County election officials, and said, “We want everyone to be tuned into the increased opportunities for fraud. Voting absentee makes it easy to vote, but increases opportunities for irregularities and fraud to occur. If you see something, say something.”
A criminal complaint is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Warner (no relation to the Secretary of State) is prosecuting the case. The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General investigated.
This week’s filing amplifies concerns related to the ability of fraudsters to steal or manipulate absentee ballots now that more people will use a mail-in, absentee ballot due to social distancing concerns driven by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Attorney General and Secretary of State alerted voters in April to potential warning signs of absentee voter fraud, including the theft of absentee ballots from one’s mailbox, the submission of absentee ballot applications in the name of a recently deceased person and the submitting of more than two ballots during an election cycle – also known as ballot harvesting.
The leaders also recommended that no one should accept assistance in marking their ballot unless they know and completely trust the person to ward off any fraudster looking to substitute his or her choice over that of the legitimate voter. Even then, the helper should mark the ballot in front of the voter and sign the affidavit on the absentee ballot envelope.
Anyone who suspects potential voter fraud should contact the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Hotline toll free at 1-877-FRAUD-WV.