WHEELING - Ohio County is receiving a higher than usual number of absentee ballots for this year's general election, and that could mean later results on election night.
Toni Chieffalo, coordinator of elections in Ohio County, said 686 absentee ballots have been sent out to Ohio County voters so far, and the West Virginia Secretary of State's website states that 385 had been returned as of Tuesday afternoon. Markings on these paper ballots must be entered by hand into touchscreen voting machines on Election Day by election workers, which could take several hours.
Ohio County is currently fourth in the state in the number of absentee ballots received, behind the state's larger counties of Kanawha at 884, Cabell County at 446 and Berkeley County at 404.
Absentee ballots have also been cast in other local counties. Brooke County reported 161 absentee ballots submitted; Hancock County, 153; Marshall County, 194; Tyler County, 55; and Wetzel County, 96.
Chieffalo expects to have as many as four two-worker teams processing absentee ballots on Election Day, while past years have seen just one or two teams doing the work. Each team is comprised of one Democrat and one Republican.
One team member reads off the markings on the absentee ballot, while the second enters the choices into the touchscreen voting machine. Chieffalo said they will start the task about 2 p.m. Tuesday, and she expects the work will take at least five hours.
In 2008, teams continued to enter the information until well after other ballots were counted by county officials. The absentee ballot numbers weren't added to the final tally until two hours later.
"We are way over what we had in past years," Chieffalo said of the number of absentee ballots in 2012. "In 2008, we only had 400 to 450 absentee ballots."
West Virginians are eligible to vote absentee if personal business or travel takes them away during early voting days and Election Day. They can also vote absentee if they are away at school, overseas or have a disability or mobility problem.
Chieffalo said a registered voter who is incarcerated for an offense other than a felony can vote absentee - but she has not seen anyone voting absentee for that reason in Ohio County.
Most of the absentee ballot requests are coming from college students and older residents, she said.
"The elderly in the area have realized they can ask for an absentee ballot for medical reasons," Chieffalo added. "Many of our voters already have gone to Florida for the season. A lot of our absentee ballots are going to Florida. ... I also think people are just interested in this election. We're busy every day, and it makes me wonder what will happen on Election Day."