With Eyes On The Presidential Race, West Virginia Early Polling Locations See Significant Turnout On First Day
Early voting is now underway in West Virginia and many voters are taking to the polls to avoid potential crowds on Election Day. Polling places opened as tens of thousands of West Virginians have already cast an absentee ballot.
Each of the state’s 55 counties have at least one early-voting location that will be open during normal business hours but will be closed on Sunday. Times that the locations will be open will vary, depending on the county and location.
Secretary of State Mac Warner said the first day of early voting has been a success. He said some polling locations across the state are reporting lines that he attributes to precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“[There’s] a few reports of lines. But none of them seem to be excessively long lines or long waits," Warner said. “I think the social distancing is making the lines appear to be longer than what they actually are.”
Warner, who spoke to West Virginia Public Broadcasting while on a visit to McDowell County, said poll workers have been equipped with personal protective equipment to ensure their safety and that of voters who come through. He said that while absentee voting numbers are down from the state’s June primary, it was expected.
“I think people are more comfortable with wearing masks and being out now we're getting accustomed to living with COVID-19. And so people are more likely to go vote in person than they may have been during the primary,” Warner said. “I've talked to some other states and they are also experiencing the same thing we are — that their numbers for absentee ballot requests are just about half of what they were in the primary. So, I think we're right there in the middle of the pack with regards to what other states are experiencing.”
Voters in Monongalia County made their way through the line Wednesday at the old Mountaineer Mall in Morgantown off Greenbag Road. Kathryn Austin, who said she works at a hospital in Morgantown, showed up at the polls with her daughter so they could both cast their ballots.
Austin mentioned a broad range of reasons that motivated her to come to the polls.
“The government, the economy,” she said. “I’m trying not to say which way I leaned, but the world is in a mess right now.”
Austin cited the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and protests over racial injustice as motivating her to come out to the polls. Her daughter, Brandy, agreed.
“I tried to vote the best way that I could for public figures that are going to do what they can for us — not cave to the pressure that they're getting from upper government, not cave to the pressure they're getting from companies — just [do what’s] best for us,” Brandy Austin said. “Because I, personally, think the way they've handled this COVID thing, there's a few things I think the government could have done differently to help us today.”
Debbie Frick, a retired police officer, came out Wednesday to cast her vote in support of President Donald Trump. She thinks the news media has slighted Trump and favored Biden in the lead-up to the election.
“I think we're better off than what we were four years ago and I don't think that he had any control over the COVID virus, the hurricanes or the wildfires,” Frick said. “I think he's done great on immigration. And I'm better off today than I was four years ago.”
While Trump won West Virginia by a 42 percentage points in 2016 and remains largely popular in the state, election forecasters predict that margin is likely not to be as great in 2020.
Voters like Andrew Barnes said the president and the Republican-led U.S. Senate have failed in their response to the coronavirus pandemic and other big issues facing the nation.
“I think they've handled it all extremely poorly and don't seem very concerned about trying to create unity when we're suffering through one of the worst crises in our country's history in the last hundred years,” Barnes said.
Because of that, Barnes said he cast a vote for Biden in the presidential election. However, he said he did so believing the Democrats could have put up a stronger candidate.
“Obviously, the vote is more against somebody then for somebody in this case,” he said about voting for Biden. “But, you know, that's just a half step in the right direction. It's gonna be up to the people next year to make sure he listens to us and not to what's going on with the insiders in D.C. or Wall Street.”
Barnes also expressed support for statehouse incumbents from the Monongalia County delegation.
While many of the voters turned out to vote at the former Mountaineer Mall did so to avoid crowds on Election Day, some said they remain skeptical of the absentee voting process.
“I talked to someone this morning where they've got multiple mail-in ballot ballots. Now, I've talked to other people that have been fine,” Kathryn Austin said. “I just came here to do it myself and I know I did it.”
Barnes also expressed some concerns over the absentee voting process. While he mailed in a ballot for the state’s June primary, he said he usually votes early and in-person like he did Wednesday.
“I’m not as comfortable with the [absentee] process. You know, there's a lot of things that could go wrong with a ballot,” Barnes said. “I guess if you didn't sign the right spot — or a lot of uncertainty with that. So coming in and voting early is a good way to avoid long lines and any uncertainty that comes with that.”
While concerns over absentee ballots persist for some voters, tens of thousands of West Virginians have already mailed in or dropped off a ballot at the county clerk’s office.
As of Wednesday morning, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office reported 95,844 absentee ballots have been returned. County clerks across the state reported 139,954 ballots have been requested so far.
While high numbers of absentee ballots are expected to delay results beyond election night, Warner said the more quickly absentee ballots are returned — and the more voters take to the polls early — the more likely the state is to see confident results on election night.
“Whether you're voting absentee or whether you're early voting, the early votes are in the machines where it's ready to be tabulated as of the close of the election on Nov. 3,” Warner said. “The more that people vote right now, the earlier we will have those election night results.”
Voters can request an absentee ballot through Wednesday, Oct. 28. Early voting ends Saturday, Oct. 31.
Absentee ballots must be returned in person to clerks by the day before the election or postmarked by Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.