CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After repeated bouts of vote fraud in West Virginia, the state's top federal prosecutors announced steps this week meant to ensure a clean and harassment-free election on Nov. 6.
U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld of the state's northern federal court district has assigned Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Warner to field election-related complaints. The U.S. Justice Department will assist that effort, Ihlenfeld said in a Wednesday statement.
"Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud," Ihlenfeld said.
In the southern district, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin is offering a toll-free hotline as he urges residents to report election fraud or voting rights abuses.
Federal law prohibits intimidating or bribing voters, buying or selling votes, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes or marking ballots for voters against their wishes. It's also illegal to interrupt, intimidate or harass voters at polling places.
Goodwin's office has successfully prosecuted several election fraud cases involving attempts to corrupt the Democratic primaries in Lincoln and Logan counties, where that party dominates the voter rolls. The federal probes have ensnared a number of elected officials from both counties.
Earlier this year, Lincoln County's sheriff, clerk and one of its commissioners resigned and pleaded guilty to charges arising from a plot to flood their party's 2010 primary with fraudulent absentee ballots. When sentencing ex-Sheriff Jerry Bowman and former Clerk Donald Whitten in August to at least a year in prison, U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston called election fraud "a festering sore on the culture and image" of West Virginia.
This year's roster of candidates includes Allen Loughry, a Republican running for state Supreme Court. A longtime clerk at the high court, Loughry wrote "Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay for a Landslide," a 2006 book chronicling episodes of political corruption and alleged shady dealings. Citing comments he's heard on the campaign trail, Loughry said "we still have people buying votes with half pints of whiskey in some parts of the state."
"As I travel the state, people speak openly about how these same election practices still happen today," Loughry said Thursday. "Some people laugh about it, but most of the good and honest people feel frustrated and helpless by what they see during each election cycle."