The Times West Virginian

May 18, 2014

Voters: Take advantage of right to have your voice heard

Times West Virginian

— The right of the American people to have a voice in their government — from the local level to Washington, D.C. — has always been one of the country’s guiding principles.

We just wish that more citizens would take advantage of the opportunity when elections roll around.

We will admit that interest in politics is probably at a near-record low because it so often seems, particulary on the national level, there’s more gridlock than accomplishment.

Now let’s look at some figures from last week’s primary election. Only 19.7 percent of the voters turned out statewide. That certainly isn’t a very high percentage. The percentage of voters in Marion County was just about that as well.

“It’s not only disconcerting,” said Robert Rupp, a West Virginia Wesleyan College political science professor. “It almost makes the system dysfunctional when you have such a low turnout.”

This year’s West Virginia primary election turnout was a 4 percent drop from a similar 2010 midterm primary.

West Virginia, The Associated Press reported, keeps trending downward in voter participation for non-presidential-year primaries, according to unofficial totals released Thursday by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Midterm primary turnout has been cut in half since 1994, when 39 percent voted.

Unofficial results show 241,020 ballots were cast in West Virginia this election. About 46,800 people voted early and absentee combined, which Tennant’s office called a midterm primary record, but the slide in total votes cast is significant.

One factor to consider is that there were few significant matchups in the primary.

Marion County had an interesting board of education race, and a contest for a Marion County Commission seat still isn’t decided. But these lacked that “marquee” description that helps to bring people to the polls. Many races were unopposed.

A high-profile U.S. Senate race to replace retiring longtime Sen. Jay Rockefeller featured primaries for Democrat Tennant and GOP Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, but they were against little-known opponents.

In the primaries for the state’s three congressional seats, only the Republican battle for the 2nd Congressional District was competitive. Alex Mooney, former Maryland GOP chairman, topped a field of seven vying for the seat Capito will vacate to run for Senate.

Democrats hold a six-seat edge in the House of Delegates in Charleston, so control over that body should spark plenty of interest in November. Fewer than half of the 67 House of Delegates districts, though, featured any primary challenge.

Only four of 17 state Senate seats on the ballot included primary contests — two Democratic, two Republican.

The sad news is that only 241,020 votes were cast in the state primary election compared to 1,219,580 voters who are registered.

Less than six months from now — with the Capito-Tennant Senate matchup, three races for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that appear to be competitive and control of the Legislature in Charleston at stake — we see much more interest in the general election.

We trust that will lead to a significant jump in people heading to the polls.