Changes to come during the 2016 election process

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There will be several changes during the 2016 election process in West Virginia.

For the first time, West Virginia voters will choose their judges during next May’s primary election without any indications of political party affiliations on the ballots.

The state law allowing for nonpartisan judicial elections officially took effect in June. The change will apply to elections, by division, for the state Supreme Court along with circuit court, family court and magistrate court.

“That’ll be a big change for the voters. Now they’re not in the bulk of the ballot on the front where it’s partisan races. They actually shift to the back as non-partisan races, such as school board and different items like that,” said Putnam County Clerk Brian Ward, who spoke to MetroNews during a statewide election planning conference Monday in Charleston.

The conference was hosted by West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant at the Embassy Suites Hotel. Wood was one of many county clerks attending the two-day event. He said another change voters can expect in 2016 will be the doing away with straight-ticket voting.

With that voting, a voter can make one mark, either electronically or on a paper ballot and vote for a party’s full list of candidates. The change requires voters to consider each race individually.

“Because of the confusion with voters regarding the touch screens and the different buttons, I think it was important to make sure that when a voter hits a button, they actually know exactly who they’re voting for,” said Wood.

When it comes to voter registration, Wood said they are encouraging more young people to cast their vote. In 2014, he started a high school program in Putnam County where students were bused to the courthouse for early voting — something he said the county will be doing again next year.

“I think the earlier we get them involved in the process, the better off we’ll be,” he said. “My hope is that they’ll be voters for life.”

Wood said they are also working to better absentee voting around the state.

“We’ll do as close as we can to make it more accessible for those people, especially our military voters. If anybody has a right to vote, it’s definitely them,” he said.

The conference allowed local election officials from across West Virginia to discuss other legislative updates and planning for both the presidential and state gubernatorial election next year.

“The meeting of all the minds definitely helps out everybody in making sure we have a successful election in 2016,” he said.

West Virginia’s primary election will be held on May 10, 2016.

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