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West Virginia: Plan Ahead to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

Election Day may feel like a ways off now, but it'll be here before you know it. And while we can all agree that it'd be nice to get it all over with already, you shouldn't lose sight of the ways you need to prepare in order for your vote to count. Make a voting plan right away. With the COVID-19 pandemic adding another complication to voting in the 2020 General Election, it would behoove you to figure out how you're going to vote safely as soon as possible to ensure your voice is heard.

If you're voting in West Virginia, important deadlines for registering to vote and voting absentee by mail are fast approaching, but don't let these cutoffs discourage you. Act now and get it done. In fact, you can even cast your ballot early to get it out of the way. Here's everything you need to know, including how to vote safely if decided to brave the crowds at the polls on November 3.

What’s the deadline to register to vote in West Virginia?

West Virginia offers a few ways to register to vote, and they all share the same deadline: 21 days before Election Day, which is October 13.

Not sure if you're already registered? You can easily check your voter status on the West Virginia Secretary of State's website.

How to register to vote in West Virginia

By far the easiest way to register to vote is to do so online, but if for some reason that's not a good fit for you, you've got options. Here's a quick breakdown, according to election information posted by the Secretary of State's office.

  • Online: Again, this is the quickest, easiest, and perhaps the safest way to register. Head over to the state's official voter registration site and follow the directions from there. The state notes, however, that you can't register online if you don't have a West Virginia driver's license or ID card number and the last four digits of your Social Security Number.
  • By mail: This route involves printing the state's downloadable voter registration form, filling it out, and mailing to your local county clerk. Be mindful of the registration deadline here and get your form in the mail at least a week before the cutoff just to be safe.
  • In person: Yes, you can still register in person at your county clerk's office, if you must. The quickest way of doing this is filling out the aforementioned downloadable form and hand-delivering it to your county clerk.

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in West Virginia?

You sure can, though the early voting period isn't that long. You should vote early if you can. While you might have to navigate a line at the early voting site, there probably won't be big crowds like there can be on Election Day. In other words, this is a safer way to cast your ballot in person (more on that later). 

Early voting runs from October 21 through October 31, according to the state's list of important General Election dates and deadlines. The site notes that early voting can take place at the county courthouse, annex, and designated community voting location during normal business hours and on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm, though it can vary from county county. Contact your county clerk for more info.

Can I vote by mail?

If you can't make it to your polling place on Election Day or you'd rather not go because you're concerned about the potential spread of COVID-19, West Virginia will allow you to vote via an absentee ballot. This isn't like some of the breezy vote-by-mail systems we've seen in other states, but it's a good way to go if you're worried about getting sick and if the early voting route doesn't work for you.

How to request an absentee ballot in West Virginia

The state offers a simple outline of the absentee ballot eligibility requirements. Like we said before, all West Virginia voters can vote absentee by simply citing COVID-19 concerns as an "excuse" for not being able to show up at the polls on Election Day. Specifically, this falls under the "Illness, injury or other medical reason which keeps me confined (includes concerns of COVID-19)" option on the absentee ballot application form. Yes, you must request an absentee ballot, but it's easy enough if you do it all online.

Here's a quick rundown of the ways you can apply for an absentee ballot:

  • Online: Head over to the state's absentee ballot application portal and follow the instructions. You must provide your first and last name, your date of birth, your county, and your DMV ID number or the last four of numbers of your Social Security Number (whichever is on file, or if you have both on file you may choose one to enter), according to the state's requirements.
  • By mail: If you want, you can fill out a blank absentee ballot application form by hand and return it to your county clerk's office by mail or via email or fax. 
  • In person: You can also fill out the aforementioned application form and hand-deliver it at your county clerk's office.https://services.sos.wv.gov/Elections/Voter/FindMyPollingPlace

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is October 28, but that's cutting it way too close to the election. Get your application in ASAP. That way, there will be ample time for the state to receive it, process it, and mail your ballot to your home.

How to vote absentee by mail in West Virginia

Once you receive your absentee ballot in the mail, it's smooth sailing from there. The key is to carefully follow the instructions and mark your ballot with your choices, presumably from the safety of your kitchen table. You may not get one of those nifty "I Voted" stickers, but you'll get peace of mind knowing you weren't exposed to coronavirus. The state posted useful instructions for voting a paper absentee ballot, placing it in the envelopes it arrived with, and returning it. That last part is super important, given the deadlines you'll need to make in order for your ballot to be counted.

Here's how to return your absentee ballot and the deadline you'll need to meet:

  • By mail: After you vote your ballot, simply put it in the envelopes it came with and mail it back to the county clerk. If you choose this option, your ballot must be sent and postmarked no later than Election Day, November 3, and must be received by the county clerk no later than the start of canvass, November 9. Absolutely do not wait that long to get yours in the mail. If anything, you should get your absentee ballot mailed at last a week before Election Day to be safe. 
  • In person: You can hand-deliver your voted absentee ballot at your county clerk's office, but no later than November 2. This may be a good way to go if you're concerned your ballot won't make it back in time via the mail.

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

West Virginia set up a site that allows you to conveniently track the status of your absentee ballot. 

For additional peace of mind, sign your signature to match what the state has on file with your voter registration. It's also a good idea to avoid tearing or otherwise damaging your voter materials -- you don't want you ballot to be thrown out on some sort of technicality.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

The polls are open from 6:30am to 7:30pm on Election Day. You can find your polling place with this handy locator.

Voting absentee by mail and voting early in person are likely the safest ways to vote in this election, but there are still ways you can reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued several safety tips to help voters protect themselves and others. 

Here's what the CDC recommends, according to its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

Additional West Virginia voting resources

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Tony Merevick is Senior News Editor at Thrillist. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.