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A West Virginia mail carrier is facing federal charges after his “joke” of altering absentee ballot requests was discovered by county election officials. WHSV has more:

This week, the Department of Justice announced a federal charge against 47-year-old Thomas Cooper for allegedly manipulating requests for absentee ballots in West Virginia.

On Wednesday, officials in Pendleton County told WHSV more about what alerted them to the attempted fraud.

Cooper, a mail carrier, has been charged with one count of “Attempt to Defraud the Residents of West Virginia of a Fair Election.”

According to U.S. Attorney Bill Powell, Cooper, from Dry Fork, W.Va., held a U.S. Postal Service contract to deliver mail in Pendleton County, and was specifically responsible for delivery to Onego, Riverton, and Franklin, the three towns from which tampered requests were discovered.

Cooper is accused of altering absentee ballot request forms to change voters’ party affiliation and other unspecified details – changes spotted by county election staff as part of their standard review of such forms:

The criminal complaint against Cooper alleges that the Pendleton County clerk, who was going through the process of approving hundreds of absentee voter requests after West Virginia mailed the requests to every registered voter, noticed eight forms that had been delivered to the Pendleton County Courthouse that appeared to have had the voters’ party-ballot requests altered.

Elise White, Pendleton County Clerk, said they started to become concerned during a necessary process they’ve been doing for years when receiving absentee requests.

“When we receive an application, we compare it to our voter registration system,” White said. “We verify that they are registered to vote and we verify the address.”

She said they also verify the voter’s party affiliation with what they checked on their request form. White said when the forms did not match with the voter’s affiliated party, they set the voter’s name aside.

She said they gave each person a call just in case they made a mistake, but that’s when she knew something had happened.

“When we called one of the voters, they indicated to us they had not selected the party that was circled,” White said. “They had to underline theirs, and then, as we looked closer, we realized they had indeed underlined and it was in different colored ink.”

The complaint against Cooper says he changed the underline that several voters had placed under “Democrat” to a circle around “Republican.”

On three other requests, the party was not changed, but the request for an absentee ballot had been altered.

White said they are still looking through all absentee requests to see if any have been altered, but only eight have been found so far.

The mail carrier admitted to making the changes, suggesting it was a “joke”:

According to an affidavit, Cooper admitted to altering the requests placed in the mail at the Onega post office.

As for the others, he allegedly told investigators, “I’m not saying no. But if it was on my route, I would take the blame.”

“You were just being silly?” the investigator asked.

Cooper allegedly responded, “Yeah… I did it as a joke… I don’t even know them.”

Needless to say, state officials were unamused – and the Secretary of State vowed to pursue such cases using a dedicated task force:

“Manipulating one’s absentee ballot or application is not a laughing matter – it’s a federal offense,” Attorney General Patrick 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.”

Secretary of State Warner said an increase in absentee ballots comes with a natural increase in opportunities for fraud.

“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.”

His Investigations Division operates an Election Fraud Tip Line where citizens can call in complaints of possible election fraud and illegal activity 24 hours a day. The anonymous toll-free number is 1-877-FRAUD-WV…

Currently, West Virginians have four ways to vote in the June primaries. This includes being able to vote in person at the polls. County employees say it is still important to vote during the pandemic, no matter what method you choose.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe this was really a joke, and don’t think it was funny. For all the noise about the potential for fraud with mail ballots, the fact that it’s so rare, usually involves someone other than a voter and is typically caught during processing as it was here gives me confidence that state and local officials across the nation are paying close attention even as the absentee ballot requests pile up in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Kudos to Pendleton County staff for being so vigilant and unwilling to be in on a very bad “joke.” Stay tuned …