A Pendleton County mail carrier has admitted to federal charges in which he changed party affiliation on absentee voter requests for the state’s primary election.
Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork, pleaded guilty Thursday to single counts of injury to the mail and attempt to defraud the residents of West Virginia of a fair election.
The case was part of a joint investigation by the offices of West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, U.S. Attorney Bill Powell and Secretary of State Mac Warner.
An affidavit filed by investigators states Cooper fraudulently altered eight absentee ballot requests in Pendleton County by changing the party affiliation on five from Democrat to Republican. Cooper had access to the ballot requests through his employment as a rural mail carrier.
He was responsible for the mail delivery in the three towns from which the tampered requests were mailed: Onego, Riverton and Franklin.
The alterations were caught by an elections official at the Pendleton County Courthouse and reported to the state’s Election Fraud Task Force.
Cooper admitted to altering some of the requests once questioned, the affidavit said.
“News of the guilty plea underscores the strength of our case,” Morrisey said. “Our team remains committed to protecting the integrity of elections in West Virginia. Our citizens deserve nothing less.”
Warner also applauded the plea.
“In West Virginia every vote counts, and those that attempt to disrupt our democratic processes will be held accountable for their actions,” he said. “I am greatly pleased with the outcome of the Election Fraud Task Force’s effort to investigate and proceed with prosecution expeditiously to obtain a guilty plea of absentee balloting fraud.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Warner, who is not related to the secretary of state, is prosecuting the case. The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General investigated.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Aloi presided.