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Early Voting Starts Wednesday in West Virginia

Ohio County Democratic ballot commissioner Walter “Fuzz” LaRue, left, and Republican commissioner Greg Smith participate in the testing of early voting machines Friday and check results for accuracy. (Photo by Joselyn King)

WHEELING – West Virginia voters start casting ballots on many contested primary races Wednesday as local election officials question whether there is much interest in the upcoming election.

Most reported the number of absentee ballot requests this year is down from the 2018 mid-term primary election, and often absentee voting is an indicator of expected turnout.

In-person early voting at local courthouses in West Virginia starts Wednesday, and continues Monday through Saturday until May 7. Primary Election Day at voting precincts is May 10. All counties will host voting on Saturday, May 1, and Saturday, May 7, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Weekday voting times in Northern Panhandle counties are as follows:

Brooke – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Hancock – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Marshall – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Ohio – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Tyler – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Wetzel – 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The County Clerk’s office will stay open until 6 p.m. on Thursdays to accommodate voters.

Toni Chieffalo, coordinator of elections in Ohio County, said typically before early voting season starts for mid-term primary elections, she has sent out about 300 absentee ballots for voting. This year, only 180 thus far have been requested.

“Maybe with everything going on in the world, people are just down on everything,” she said.

People have called with the most questions about the non-partisan race for three seats on the Ohio County Board of Education, according to Chieffalo. Voters are asking about which magisterial districts the candidates represent.

She said the race for the GOP nomination to West Virginia’s 2nd District U.S. House seat also has interested some voters. There will also be contested Republican and Democratic primaries for the District 1 West Virginia Senate seat.

In Ohio County, all other races on the ballot are non-contested – except for party committee members.

Marshall County Clerk Melanie Madden said absentee numbers and excitement are lower in her county this time, but she isn’t all that concerned.

“In a primary election, people just don’t get as excited as they do for the general election,” she said. “It is really the presidential election that brings people out. Usually it slacks off a bit for the mid-terms.”

Madden and Sheriff William Helms have collaborated on some changes to make in-person early voting easier for those in wheelchairs and with walkers this election season.

Helms will have court security stationed at the rear basement entrance to the courthouse in order to enable these special voters to access the courthouse easily. This entrance is only to be used for voters that are in a wheelchair or need the assistance of a walker, and all other early voters must enter the courthouse through the front door.

“We found during the last election some voters who were wheelchair bound or with walkers had difficulty getting in the front entrance with court security,” Madden said. “We approached Sheriff Helms, and he was receptive.

“The rear entrance will be open for wheelchair and walker voters only.”

Marshall County has no contested primaries for county office, There are contested races for municipal office in Glen Dale and McMechen, but there is only one candidate for each office on the ballot in Benwood.

Wetzel County Clerk Carol Haught reported the number of absentee ballots requested there “is really low.”

“None of our local races have opposition,” she said. “Our clerk, circuit clerk and commissioner are all running unopposed.”

There is some opposition within the board of education race, she added.

“I haven’t heard a lot from voters,” Haught continued. ” With redistricting, some are confused about which delegate district they are voting on in this county.”

Wetzel County has been divided among four delegate districts – District 7, District 8, District 72 and District 77.

The county has no contested local races.

Hancock County, meanwhile, sees contested Republican primary races for commissioner, county clerk, circuit clerk and board of education.

Barb Ross said in 2018 the county had just 53 absentee ballot requests, and it has already surpassed that number this year.

“We’ve had a lot of phone calls,” she said.

Brooke County Clerk Kimberly Barbetta said absentee ballot requests are few there, but people there do have questions about the election – specifically about where they go to vote.

She said following last year’s redistricting about 80% of voters in Brooke County had a change in their polling location as precincts had to be reworked to coincide with new delegate districts.

Barbetta suggested residents first try to come early vote at the courthouse to clarify any precinct issues.

“People here love early voting,” she said. “We do early voting right there, at the door. It’s the easiest thing.”

Brooke County has a contested race for board of education.

Tyler County election employees reported they had not received many absentee ballot requests.

Tyler County has Republican primary races for commissioner and county clerk, as well as the non-partisan board of education race.

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