Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

HUNTINGTON — West Virginia was mentioned on the first night of the 2020 presidential debates. On Wednesday, state officials took time to clarify that mention.

“They have mailmen with lots of — did you see what’s going on? Take a look at West Virginia — mailmen selling the ballots. They are being sold. They are being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country,” Trump said.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, clarified Wednesday that West Virginia experienced a unique circumstance where a postal carrier altered absentee ballot applications, not ballots. A mail carrier in Pendleton County changed the party affiliation on five absentee ballot request forms from Democrat to Republican.

A county clerk uncovered the altered applications and quickly turned the case over to the secretary of state, Warner’s office said.

The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia prosecuted the case and, in July, the postal carrier pleaded guilty.

“Voters should be confident that this election will be safe, secure and fair,” Warner said.

He praised West Virginia’s 55 county clerks. He said they work tirelessly to prevent election fraud and interference of all types from taking place.

“We have conducted extensive training with clerks and election officials, covering everything from cybersecurity to continuity of operations to preventing and detecting fraud,” Warner said. “This was a prime example of a dedicated clerk, closely watching her election process and quickly reporting an anomaly, as she had been trained to do. The system worked, and we were able to rapidly assure the voters of West Virginia that the election was secure.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said during a call Wednesday with reporters that she believes it undermines the election to cast doubt on the nation’s and West Virginia’s mail-in voting system. She said she believes the primary election was handled very well in West Virginia.

“We got results on time. They were accurate. There weren’t a lot of complaints,” she said.

Capito said the president should be positive about the authenticity of mail-in voting.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also spoke about Trump’s claim.

“It’s plain wrong that President Trump would mislead Americans to think mail-in voter fraud is happening in West Virginia,” Manchin said in a statement Wednesday. “There is no widespread voter fraud in West Virginia, and any claim to the contrary is false.

“Mail-in voting is safe, and altering ballots is a felony punishable with up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine in West Virginia, in addition to any federal penalty. To suggest anything different is just not true, and an attempt to undermine Americans’ faith in our democratic process and disparage West Virginia is wrong.”

Gov. Jim Justice was asked about the comment during his daily COVID-19 news briefing Wednesday. The Republican governor said he was disappointed with the debate, calling it an ugly food fight.

The Secretary of State’s Office has a toll-free phone number to take complaints of improper election activities: 877-FRAUD-WV (877-372-8688).