Federal prosecutors announced on May 26 that a West Virginia postal carrier has been charged with attempted election fraud after the party affiliations of several mail-in requests for absentee ballots were altered.
The news comes as Twitter labeled as false a tweet in which President Trump claimed that fraud was possible with expanded mail-in ballots for the 2020 election. In the last several weeks, several instances of major election tampering have been discovered, including one instance in which an elected official tampered with almost 200 ballots.
Records of mail-in ballot fraud have risen to near 1,300 according to The Heritage Foundation which has established the first-ever nationwide database of the incidents. “This is not a partisan issue. Heritage has documented elections overturned or elected officials removed on account of fraud that involved both Democrats and Republicans,” the website states.
In the most recent case, an investigation found that 47-year-old Thomas Cooper, who delivered the forms to the Pendleton County clerk in April, altered the party affiliations of five mail-in requests with a black pen, the West Virginia Attorney General’s office said in a statement.
Cooper, of Dry Fork, “fraudulently altered eight absentee ballot requests in Pendleton County,” an affidavit claims.
The party affiliations for another three were unchanged, but the request was altered, the affidavit said.
Cooper, who because of his job had access to the mail-in requests, admitted he tampered with some of the requests, but said it was intended “as a joke” as he changed five registrations to Republican from Democrat. The USPS mail carrier was in charge of delivering mail in Franklin, Onego, and Riverton—the three towns that the altered requests came from.
He said in an interview with Bennie Cogar, an attorney general’s office investigator who conducted the investigation on behalf of the secretary of state’s office, that he didn’t know the voters.
All registered voters in West Virginia received absentee ballot applications last month in a push to encourage mail-in voting amid Covid-19 pandemic.
Cooper has been charged by the U.S. attorney’s office with one count of violating a statute that imposes criminal penalties for any individual who “knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process, by … the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the state in which the election is held.”
“Manipulating one’s absentee ballot or application is not a laughing matter—it’s a federal offense,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. “We must protect the integrity of the ballot box, and this demonstrates the aggressive action we will take to do so.”
President Donald Trump has publicly criticized voting by mail, saying it paves the way for potential voter fraud.
“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” Trump tweeted last month. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
“Absentee Ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can’t get to the polls on Election Day,” he added. “These ballots are very different from 100% Mail-In Voting, which is ‘RIPE for FRAUD,’ and shouldn’t be allowed!”
The president earlier this month threatened to request to withhold federal funding to Michigan and Nevada over widespread mail voting schemes. All Michigan voters will receive applications for absentee voting, while all Nevada voters will receive mail-in ballots.
Supporters of voting by mail say it enables people to exercise their rights while not risking getting infected with coronavirus. While ballot tampering has been found on both sides of the political aisle, critics say that it typically occurs in large urban areas.