The process is a relatively simple one. Registered voters go to their designated polling place, request a ballot and vote for their chosen candidates and issues. It’s even simpler when the “ballot” is actually a computer screen that simply takes the touch of a finger to make each vote count.
In less than five weeks, voters across the country will cast ballots on a variety of issues. Some will be measures facing their local municipalities, while others will be votes for state and national candidates.
Prior to a ruling late last week, the process could have been a little more confusing here in the Mountain State, where a bid to have voters provided with separate ballots for the regular general and special U.S. Senate elections was denied by Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.
Members of the state’s Republican party had openly objected to the decision by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to include the special U.S. Senate election on the regular general election ballot. They had requested separate ballots be provided to voters — one for the general election, and one for the special U.S. Senate election, which is being held to decide who serves out the more than two years remaining in the term of the late Robert C. Byrd.
But Judge Bailey struck down the request, saying the GOP’s allegations of harm to their party were too speculative to warrant her blocking Secretary Tennant from continuing with a single ballot. She also cited past elections when special races were deemed separate but were still included on the same ballot as regularly scheduled elections.
“Frankly, if I believed that this was an unlawful ballot, I would have no hesitation in ordering that it’s enjoined,” Bailey said. “I don’t find it to be unlawful.”
She went on to agree with a lawyer for Tennant, who decided on the single ballot earlier this month, that separate ballots would confuse and possibly disenfranchise voters — including hundreds of military and other overseas absentee voters who have already been mailed a unified ballot.
We also agree, especially in an election that will be so significant in the Mountain State. Midterm elections, even in an uneasy atmosphere such as the one we’re facing, historically see low voter turnout. Special elections tend to see even lower turnout. Here in Marion County, only 15 percent of registered voters went to the polls for the special U.S. Senate primary in late August to determine which candidates would face off in November. Those numbers were mirrored across the state.
With so many factors already piled up against potential turnout, why try to confuse the voters who do go to the polls by providing them with separate ballots?
Separate ballots would also cost more, officials warn, to the tune of millions of dollars. As reported by The Associated Press, nearly all the state’s 55 counties would have to buy a new set of devices just for the special election, or reprogram their devices, in violation of federal law, depending on which voting machines they use. Even though West Virginia has weathered the Great Recession better than other states, we certainly shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ money on an unnecessary issue.
Thankfully, the GOP released a statement Tuesday saying the party would not appeal the ruling. With less than five weeks to go before the general election on Nov. 2, we’re glad they’ve decided to move on, ending early speculation that they would appeal. Voters need to focus on the issues at hand, not the number of ballots they’re holding.