As she counts down to the Nov. 6 general election, Randolph County Clerk Brenda Wiseman has noticed a definite trend - the number of absentee voters has gone up.
Not that she's complaining. Wiseman said she thinks additional requests for absentee ballots will bode well for a better voter turnout than the county saw in the May 8 state primary election. Wiseman said she sent out 70 applications for the May 8 primary; thus far this general election season, that figure has tripled to 210.
"That's a pretty good indication that it's going to be a big turnout," Wiseman recently told The Inter-Mountain. "I'm not saying it's going to be 100 percent, but definitely a high turnout."
And it's likely more requests for absentee ballots are on the way. The deadline to return a completed application or apply in person for an absentee ballot is Oct. 31. The last day county clerks' offices across the Mountain State can accept hand-delivered or postmarked absentee ballots prior to the general election is Nov. 5 - and the final day they will accept postmarked absentee ballots post-election is Nov. 13, Wiseman said.
Wiseman was one of three county clerks The Inter-Mountain conferred with while exploring the question of whether a high absentee voter turnout is indicative of a high general voter turnout.
So, to what does Wiseman credit the jump in absentee applications between the primary and the general election?
"Mostly to the presidential race," she said. "In the 2008 general election, we sent out 294 (absentee ballots), so that was a busy time, too."
In neighboring Barbour County, longtime County Clerk Macil Auvil has seen a similar bump in absentee voting, but said the presidential race plus some additional factors have contributed to a heightened interest. Auvil's office has mailed 154 paper absentee ballots - and that's not counting the ones that have been emailed to voters' inboxes.
"We've had more absentee voting than I've ever had, and I've worked here for 44 years," said Auvil, who began working in the Barbour County Clerk's Office in 1969. "There's more voting because of the presidential election, of course, but the board of education has a levy and a bond, and there are two contested races that are pretty good for sheriff and county commission."
The number of absentee voters in Barbour County hasn't just grown since the May 8 primary election; Auvil said it's significantly increased since the 2008 general election when Sen. John McCain squared off with President Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator.
"We sent out 97 (absentee ballots) in 2008," she said. "And this year, we don't know how many more (are) going to go."
Absentee voting is similarly up in Upshur County, where County Clerk Debbie Thacker Wilfong said her staff members already sent out 160 general election ballots, compared to the 75 they mailed for the May primary. Wilfong said it's hard to say whether more absentee voting will translate into a larger total voter turnout.
"With this being a presidential election year, it's always a big turnout, but (absentee voting) is probably a little bit of an indication about what we're going to see," she said. "I think we'll have a very high turnout this year."
So does West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. In an Oct. 24 news release, Tennant expressed optimism that voter turnout would be "strong," despite the fact that seven statewide elections have taken place since May 2010.
"This is an election in which we are choosing our president, our delegation to Washington, our state leaders and local leaders," Tennant wrote. "There can be no such thing as voter fatigue when the issues facing us are so important."
Voting season is already under way. Early voting began Wednesday and will continue weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (or during regular courthouse hours) through Nov. 2 in Randolph, Barbour, Upshur and all other West Virginia counties, Tennant said. Citizens will be able to vote from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on two Saturdays within that time frame - this Saturday as well as Nov. 3.
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