Low early voter turnout, high demand for absentee ballots as election nears

Marion County elections staffers have mailed out 8,237 absentee ballots ahead of the June 9 primary election.

FAIRMONT — Marion and Harrison counties are both reporting exceptionally low early voting turnout numbers, but enormously high requests for absentee ballots, according to elections officials.

Voters may be reluctant to turn out in-person this electoral season amid COVID-19 concerns. Many poll workers across the state have called off from working the primary election for the same concerns.

In Marion County, early voting is operating smoothly, but numbers are down substantially from similar voting cycles, according to Julie Kincaid, voter registration deputy clerk with the Marion County Clerk’s office.

Kincaid said 280 voters have cast ballots thus far at the county’s three early voting precincts, including 207 voters at the J. Harper Meredith Building in Fairmont, 44 voters in White Hall, and 29 voters in the Farmington Community Building polling place.

“This is not near anywhere near the total we have during a normal election cycle. Turnout is low,” said Kincaid. “But with everything considered, I think it’s decent, at this point.”

However, voters keep requesting absentee ballots from county clerk offices around the state.

“We have had an overwhelming response to absentee ballots. We’ve currently mailed out 8,237 of them, which is a whole lot. In a regular election year, we usually mail out only three to five hundred absentee ballots total,” said Kincaid.

Harrison County Clerk Susan Thomas said her county topped Marion in ballot requests.

“We’ve received 11,700 requests for absentee ballots to date and we’re working on them now,” Thomas said.

Turnout for early voting is low in Harrison County, too.

“It’s kind of hard to tell after two days, but it’s a very low early voter turnout percentage-wise so far,” said Thomas. “In Harrison County, we’re getting a little more than a hundred voters each day. Normally, we’d be getting two or three hundred."

West Virginia’s 10-day early voting period began May 27 and runs each day, except Sunday, until Election Day.

Absentee voting is also underway across the state. In order for a resident to vote absentee because of issues related to the coronavirus pandemic or another reason, the resident’s application for a ballot must be received by Wednesday, June 3.

West Virginia’s 2020 primary election is set for Tuesday, June 9. It was originally scheduled for May 12, but was postponed because of the pandemic lockdown.

In response to COVID-19 concerns, Gov. Jim Justice declared all registered voters may use an absentee ballot to vote in the May primary, should they wish to do so.

“Because there’s no specific criteria associated with requesting an absentee ballot this election, I think it resulted in many, many more people taking advantage of that option,” said Kincaid. “Normally, people have to give a reason for requesting an absentee ballot. But because of the pandemic, we were able to provide anyone with a ballot.”

More than 249,000 state residents have requested absentee ballots, said Secretary of State Mac Warner this week. That figure is approximately 20% of West Virginia’s registered voters.

To date, 11% of absentee voters have cast their ballots.

“Some people are still nervous about going around others. There are a lot of unknowns,” said Thomas.

Election officials say social distancing measures will be in effect at polling places statewide, but voters are not required to wear masks. Hand sanitizer will be on hand at the polls.

Voters are reminded to bring with them a form of identification or a voter registration card.

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