West Virginia voters turned out in record numbers for the November General Election.
Final figures released by Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office show there were 802,726 ballots cast. That is the second highest in the state’s history. Only in the 1960 election did more West Virginians vote, when 837,782 votes were cast in the presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
That massive turnout in 1960 occurred even though younger West Virginians could not vote. The 26th Amendment to the Constitution was not passed until 1971, allowing 18, 19 and 20 year-olds to vote.
The number of voters in last month’s election translates into a turnout of 63.25 percent of the 1,269,219 registered voters. That is high for West Virginia, but it fell well short of the turnout in most states.
Unofficial figures show 80 percent of registered voters in Minnesota cast ballots, followed by Maine at 78 percent and Colorado at 76 percent. The national turnout was 67 percent.
Nationwide, 157 million people cast ballots. An analysis by NBC News found that turnout increased in every state and 98 percent of the nation’s counties compared with the 2016 election.
West Virginia’s absentee ballot numbers reached historic highs because voters were permitted to use the Covid-19 virus as an excuse. The Secretary of State’s Office reports county clerks received 145,133 absentee ballots. Typically, only a few thousand absentee votes are cast.
Those absentees, combined with 263,012 early votes, mean that 408,145 votes were cast before Election Day. So nearly half of all West Virginians who voted in the General Election had already cast their ballots before Election Day.
The popularity of absentee voting in both the General and Primary Elections will spark a debate in West Virginia whether to expand the option permanently. Secretary of State Warner said on Talkline recently that many county clerks opposed additional absentee options.
That opposition may be rooted in the responsibility of processing by hand thousands of additional ballots, especially in smaller counties with limited staff.
Others may be concerned about thousands of additional ballots floating around. In the Primary Election, absentee ballot applications were mailed to every eligible voter, while in the General Election voters had to request the ballot.
As a result, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, 262,262 ballots were requested in the Primary, but only 224,720 were returned to the county clerk. So that means there were 37,647 ballots that were not accounted for, and that is not a good thing.
Yesterday, Secretary Warner officially certified the statewide results. He appropriately praised county clerks, their staffs and poll workers for a clean, controversy-free election. That is an impressive achievement, especially given the hardships created by the pandemic.
Naturally, not all those record number of voters were satisfied with all the outcome of every race, but they can be confident that the election was executed fairly, and the results were tabulated accurately.