Early voting suggests low turnout for primary
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 37,500 West Virginians have voted early ahead of the May 8 primary, with turnout appearing light amid a dearth of contested races on the ballot.
The figure reflects in-person and absentee ballots cast as of Wednesday, after seven days of early voting. The early voting period ends Saturday. Election officials won't open or tally any of these early votes until after the polls close Tuesday.
Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Mahan said people have said they're waiting until May 8 to vote. She's also fielded some criticism of the primary process, with those voters advocating a single election in the fall.
"Voter turnout has been so low, we're just happy that they're coming in to vote,'' Mahan said Thursday. "We've had less than 700 people. Usually, we're already passed 1,000 by now.''
By contrast, West Virginia had 70,815 early voters during the last presidential primary year, in 2008. Democratic primary voters chose Hillary Clinton over the party's eventual nominee, President Barack Obama. That year's general election saw a record 153,096 early votes.
"The high water mark is the 2008 general,'' noted Jake Glance, spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia's elections chief.
Tennant's office provided the early voting figures. With this year's presidential nominees all but decided, the biggest races May 8 are both on the Democratic ballot.
Five candidates seek the nomination in a bid to succeed retiring Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass. Another six are campaigning for the party's nod in the two-seat state Supreme Court race. Republican candidates for these offices are all assured of moving on to November.
The Democrats also have just 28 contested races among the 67 House of Delegates districts, while the Republicans have 15. The Democrats also have all six of the contested state Senate races, out of 17 seats on the ballot.
Democrats account for 52 percent of the state's voters, but 61 percent of the early votes. Around 29 of the early votes have come from Republicans, in keeping with their share of registered voters.
Both major parties allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in their primaries. More than 3,400 had done so as of Wednesday. These independent voters represent the fastest growing portion of the state's electorate, with 210,500 people currently registered outside of the major parties compared to less than 85,000 in 2000.
The state-based Mountain Party also has ballot access in West Virginia, and has five House of Delegates candidates. Its voters have cast 10 early ballots.