Talk of election fraud may conjure images of high-tech operations, ones that rely on hacked emails and a network of fake social media accounts.
A recent case in West Virginia, however, was decidedly less sophisticated. According to federal prosecutors, it involved just one mail carrier and a little bit of black ink.
The mail carrier, Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork, W.Va., pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of attempted election fraud and one count of “injury to the mail,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of West Virginia.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Cooper admitted to altering eight primary ballot request forms with black ink. On five of those forms, the political party was changed from Democrat to Republican, officials said, and they would have resulted in Democratic voters receiving ballots featuring Republican primary candidates.
The clerk of Pendleton County spotted the alterations in April and contacted state officials, spurring an investigation, prosecutors said.
An investigator with the state attorney general’s office spoke with the voters, who confirmed that their ballot requests had been altered, according to an affidavit filed with the court.
Eventually, that investigator and a U.S. postal inspector questioned Mr. Cooper, who, according to the affidavit, held a U.S. Postal Service contract to deliver mail in the three towns where the eight voters reside: Onego, Riverton and Franklin.
The alterations looked obvious and affected only a tiny fraction of the state’s more than one million voters. At one point in the interview, Mr. Cooper was asked if he was “just being silly” when he altered the ballot requests. According to the affidavit, he replied, “Yeah” and said that he did it “as a joke.”
Efforts to reach Mr. Cooper by phone and email on Thursday night were not successful. He will be sentenced at a later date, according to local news reports.
To encourage voters to use mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic, absentee ballot applications were mailed to all registered voters in West Virginia in advance of their primary election on June 9.