CHARLESTON, West Virginia (WOWK) – West Virginia primary elections will continue as scheduled on Tuesday May 12th.
While polling stations will be cleaned up and disinfected, any voter in West Virginia can now request an absentee ballot for medical reasons, including concern about the coronavirus.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued an opinion stating that the Governor’s state of emergency declares the Secretary of State the authority to allow voters broad access to absentee ballots for the next primary election.
“Our legal opinion has the potential to offer citizens more opportunities to vote safely during this unprecedented public health emergency, while protecting the integrity of the primary elections,” said Attorney General Morrisey. “It is important to note that this is an extraordinary, unique situation. We are in an unexplored territory and the opinion expressed in our letter should be seen within the borders of the state’s emergency powers. “
Morrisey says that a request from the Secretary of State has asked for indications that the Secretary of State’s emergency government powers apply in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and, if so, what will trigger that authority and how much it would extend.
According to Chapter 3 of the state code, Morrisey says the Secretary of State could invoke his emergency regulatory authority. This would be based on the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency or preparedness, such as those declared on March 4 and March 16 respectively.
This power can also be invoked regionally by order of the county main circuit judge.
Morrisey claims to describe the Secretary of State’s extension of emergency powers as broad and flexible, as long as the emergency rule does not conflict with Chapter 3 of the state code, which means that the measure remains consistent with the issues on which the statues are silent.
For example, Morrisey says that Chapter 3 allows those who “are confined to a specific location and prevented from voting in person” due to “illness … or other medical reason” to vote by absentee ballot. This allows the Secretary of State’s emergency authority to make absentee voting available to those subject to limited travel and / or mandatory or voluntary quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Morrisey says that while his letter of opinion addresses the Secretary of State’s emergency powers, the Governor has separate and broader authority through Chapter 15. These could likely support an order from the Governor regarding safe electoral procedures.
These provisions could potentially include staff in polling stations and / or the date of primary elections.
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