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County Clerks Prep for ‘Different’ W.Va. Primary Election

WHEELING — Local officials agree the upcoming primary election in West Virginia will be “different” with voters being asked to submit their ballots by mail.

The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office is directing counties to send all registered voters — both active and inactive — absentee ballot applications. Those ballots could be going out as soon as next week.

Early voting at courthouses still is scheduled to happen across the state from April 29 through May 9, with Election Day set for May 12. Absentee voting, however, is being encouraged to keep large numbers of people from congregating in restricted spaces at polling locations amid coronavirus concerns.

County clerks acknowledged this could mean a tremendous amount of work as they process absentee ballot applications and the ballots arriving by mail.

Many counties also will need additional poll workers, as many older poll workers may opt not to work with the public as the virus continues to spread.

Marshall County Clerk Jan Pest, a former president of the West Virginia Association of Counties, expects to mail out as many as 21,000 ballot applications next week. Counties will be reimbursed the cost for printing and postage on the mailings.

“It’s going to be way different,” Pest said. “People will be receiving absentee ballot applications during the week of April 6. All they have to do is fill it out, send it in and get a ballot. It will be crazy here trying to process the ballots. While people want to avoid the coronavirus and don’t want to go to the polls, there will be a huge process in the office. But I think for the people, it’s going to be very convenient.”

She expects turnout for the election may actually be higher for the primary election because of the convenience of the absentee ballot.

Getting poll workers their required training prior to the election will be an issue, and this could mean a reduction in the number of voting precincts, according to Pest.

“I have 220 workers who need training, and I can only have 10 people in a room at a time,” she said.

Pest is hoping restrictions are amended so she could utilize a larger space for a larger number of people while still keeping them at least six feet apart.

She said she currently has enough poll workers to work on Election Day. But if there are a number of call-offs before that time, she may need to reduce the number of voting precincts in the county. Currently there are 37 precincts in Marshall County.

Pest would prefer to have a mail-in only election.

“I think it is the safest thing for people,” she said. “I reached out to the Secretary of State and asked him to persuade the governor to make this a mail-in only election. It’s the fairest way for the people to stay safe, and the election may come at the height of the virus.

“They are asking us to stay home for everything else. I would like to see them not endanger people, and value the poll workers. I’m very happy they are ready to work, but i don’t like the idea of them being exposed.”

Ohio County Commission President Tim McCormick said the county is getting prepared to send out 29,000 absentee ballot applications, and he wasn’t aware yet of any need for additional poll workers.

“But that could change, depending on how far away Election Day is from our getting back to normal,” he said. “Please don’t forget to vote. If you don’t feel comfortable going to polls, take advantage of absentee voting. It is extremely important people use their right to vote.”

Wetzel County Clerk Carol Haught said 10,000 absentee voter applications will go out in the county.

“We will be burning the midnight oil,” she said. “It is a two envelope stuffing process.”

Haught does wonder if there will be enough poll workers available if the coronavirus crisis continues in the coming weeks.

“There are a few who already said, ‘No, thank you.’ We have a lot of older poll workers, and some are in wait and see mode,” she said.

Barb Ross, head election clerk in Hancock County, said about 23,000 absentee ballot applications will go out to voters there in the coming days.

She said 120 poll workers will be needed for the election.

“We’re OK for right now,” she said. “Some have decided not to (work this election), and that’s fine. We’re hoping for more to volunteer. ”

Tyler County Clerk Neil Archer said so far none of his poll workers have indicated they won’t work Election Day. There are about 6,250 voters there who will receive the absentee ballot application next week.

“We urge people to use the absentee ballot program,” he said. “It’s a simpler, safer way to vote this time. The process has really streamlined and is a friendly type of deal. And there will not be a congregation of people at the polls.”

Brooke County Clerk Kim Barbetta reports about 18,000 absentee ballot applications will go out soon in that county. She was reluctant to give out more information at this time, as directives change on a regular basis.

West Virginians who need to register to vote, or to amend their voter registration, have until April 21 to do so.

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