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West Virginians making choices in pandemic-impacted primary; social distancing observed at polling places

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s possible more than half of the ballots cast in today’s primary election in West Virginia will be ready to be tabulated shortly after the polls close at 7:30 tonight.

There were just more than 500,000 voters in the 2016 presidential primary in West Virginia. As of early Tuesday morning, there were more than 253,000 ballots already in the possession of the state’s 55 county clerks largely because of open mail-in absentee voting caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mac Warner

Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office reported Tuesday there had been 210,749 mail-in absentee ballots received along with 42,400 ballots cast in the traditional 10-day early voting period. The clerks have processed the ballots for counting and that will happen not long after the polls close.

“A quarter of a million votes are already in–the clerks are ready to run those through the machine and get those tabulated,” Warner told MetroNews. “They will start reporting those results right after the polls close at 7:30 this evening.”

The question is–will those votes that are tabulated early in the evening tell the story on how individual races are going to wind up while the votes cast in person today are waiting to be counted?

Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood believes most of his county’s ballots are already at the courthouse. Mail-in absentee and early voting total more than 9,000. He said 15,400 Putnam County residents voted in the 2016 presidential primary. Wood predicts turnout for that election and this one will be about the same.

“I think it’s going to be a wash,” Wood said. “People either want to vote or they don’t want to vote and I think you’re seeing the same people vote but just in a different way.”

Berkeley County was reporting a brisk turnout at noon Tuesday. Donnie Plotner, chief deputy clerk of elections, said

“I’m a little surprised at that. Personally, I didn’t think it would be but from what I’ll were hearing turnout is going to be good,” Plotner said.

Voting stickers

Warner said reports he was getting from across the state Tuesday morning indicated all was going well with social distancing at polling places. He said the county clerks deserve the credit. He said they’ve done a good job handling the challenges of this election including a four-week postponement and the mail. Warner said West Virginia benefited from other states that went forward with their elections during the height of the pandemic.

“When Florida didn’t have 9,000 pollworkers show up that was a message to us, we need to get out in front of this,” Warner said.

Warner’s office working with the county clerks set up a campaign urging people to volunteer to be pollworkers. He said nearly 400 people responded. He said the West Virginia Realtors Association also got involved to urge its members to work the polls. Warner visited nearly half of the 55 county clerks’ offices in recent weeks and he was impressed with what he saw.

“In every place I saw a determination by the clerks to get out in front of this absentee ballot process, they knew it was going to be a lot of work, and they accomplished it,” Warner said.

MetroNews Decision 2020 coverage begins at 7:06 p.m. on affiliate stations across the state and at wvmetronews.com.

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