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Election fraud is unacceptable, plain and simple. Whether you believe voter fraud is rampant or rare, there is no denying that the possibility exists. So when it occurs, who should investigate allegations of these types of crimes? Municipal police departments, sheriffs’ offices, state police, secretary of state, U.S. attorney? All of the above?

The answer is that most law enforcement agencies do have the ability to investigate election crimes, but West Virginia voters should know that the secretary of state’s office has a specialized unit for election investigations. The SOS Investigations Division works closely with all law enforcement agencies and is specifically trained to conduct investigations into allegations of campaign fraud, voter fraud, and election fraud. The WVSOS not only has the authority, but a duty to investigate; when there is sufficient evidence, it has the responsibility to submit suspects of election crimes for prosecution.

The Investigations Division consists of a Capitol-based director and a number of contract investigators located throughout the state. The Division works in tandem with the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office to increase efficiency. By having investigators located around the state, the Division can respond swiftly to complaints that contain credible claims of election law violations, and real-time responses produce significant deterrent effect while increasing the likelihood of successful investigations.

The Division values an integrity-based, proactive approach to investigations. The approach has three components: engaging and educating the public; quick response; and prosecution when warranted. The Division works closely with local law enforcement agencies, district attorneys, and county clerks in all 55 counties to deter and uncover fraud. Over the last three years, the Division has investigated more than 500 allegations of fraud or misconduct surrounding West Virginia elections, leading to dozens of criminal referrals, arrests, convictions, and diversion programs. Among the investigations were incidences of double voting between multiple counties, and double voting in multiple states. Be advised, the U.S. Attorneys have formed an Anti-Fraud Task Force consisting of multiple law enforcement agencies and the SOS. The Task Force will be watching closely this primary election.

The June 9th primary is an unprecedented election for the State of West Virginia. People concerned with coronavirus are using absentee ballots in vastly larger numbers than usual, thereby generating additional risks for fraud. National statistics show that absentee ballots are one of the primary means by which voter fraud occurs. So, while we must always ensure free and fair access to the ballot, we must also protect the integrity of the election. We want the public to be confident in casting their vote, whether in person or by absentee, and trust that officials are taking a proactive approach to preventing and investigating election fraud.

Fraud prevention starts with education. That’s why the Secretary of State’s Office is doing so much to educate the public on what is and what is not acceptable. The general public’s support in helping deter and detect fraud is vitally important. If you see something suspicious, please say something. Call us at (877) FRAUD-WV (372-8398) or file a complaint with our Investigations Unit. We stand ready to investigate your allegations and uphold the integrity of West Virginia elections.

More information on the June 9 primary election can be found at GoVoteWV.com.

Kim Mason is director of investigations for the Office of West Virginia Secretary of State.

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