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A Mail Carrier Took People's Absentee Ballot Requests And Switched Their Party To Republican

Thomas Cooper of West Virginia is facing eight years in federal prison.

Last updated on July 9, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Posted on July 9, 2020, at 6:52 p.m. ET

Jason Redmond / Getty Images

An election workers sorts vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary in Washington state in March.

A West Virginia mail carrier is facing prison time after admitting he attempted election fraud by changing the party registrations of people who had requested absentee ballots for the state's June primary, officials announced Thursday.

Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork signed an agreement in which he pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to defraud the residents of West Virginia of a fair election and one count of injury to the mail.

In a May 26 criminal complaint, prosecutors detailed how the Clerk of Pendleton County discovered the eight 2020 primary election COVID-19 mail-in absentee requests appeared to have been altered using a black pen.

Five of the requests had been altered so the voters' ballot choice was switched from Democrat to Republican. But the clerk knew some of the voters were not Republicans, and when she called them they told her they had used blue pens to request Democratic ballots before dropping off the requests at the post office.

For the other three, officials said the party wasn’t changed, but the request had been altered.

When investigators met with Cooper in late April, he admitted to changing some of the ballots.

"[I did it] as a joke," he said, according to the complaint. "[I] don't even know them."

Cooper faces up to eight years in prison, although prosecutors have agreed as part of the plea deal to call for a reduced sentence.

Cooper attorney Scott Curnutte told BuzzFeed News his client had engaged in a "silly lark."

"He is deeply sorry for the implications for our democratic process," Curnutte said. "It should be remembered, however, that the mail he altered were requests for ballots, not ballots themselves."

According to data from the West Virginia secretary of state, some 2,236 votes were cast in Pendleton County for the primary election, including 943 Republican ballots and 1,209 Democratic ballots.


This story has been updated with comment from Cooper's attorney.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.