Registered Republicans close gap
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Republican Party is the closest it has been to becoming the majority party in the state since the Great Depression according to the latest data released Tuesday by the Secretary of State’s Office.
The deadline for state residents to register to vote or update voter registration information going into the start of early voting this morning and the Tuesday, Nov. 3, general election was Oct. 13. Tuesday’s registration update includes people who registered with their local county clerk, those who registered online, and those who mailed in registrations with Oct. 13 postmarks.
According to the latest registration data, there are now 1,268,460 registered voters in West Virginia. Of those voters, 470,483 West Virginians (37.09 percent) were registered with the Democratic Party and 458,391 residents (36.14 percent) were registered with the Republican Party. While the Democratic Party still maintains the majority of voter registrations, Democratic and Republican registrations were separated by a margin of 0.95 percent.
“These voter registration numbers show tremendous enthusiasm and support for Republican candidates across West Virginia,” said Melody Potter, chairwoman of the West Virginia Republican Party. “Since January 1, 2020, the Republicans have added nearly 50,000 voters, and the Democrats have lost almost 18,000, to bring us within 1 percent of having more registered Republicans than Democrats in West Virginia. West Virginians are ready to vote, and they’re voting Republican up and down the ballot this year.”
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the last time the Republican Party held a majority of voter registration in the state was at least 1932, though they said the data was not quite clear cut. The change coincided with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Democratic nominee for president.
The Democratic Party has been losing party registration for more than a decade, but the flight of voters to the Republican Party, third parties, and to the unaffiliated category has accelerated since 2016. Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said she still sees enthusiasm among registered Democrats
“West Virginia is a state based in Democratic roots. Even though a majority of our representatives are currently Republicans, our state is made up of hard-working families; the people Democrats have always represented,” Biafore said. “West Virginians are extremely enthusiastic about voting in this election. Many folks are fed up with the lack of leading Republicans have displayed and the attacks on their healthcare, education, and jobs. People are tired of being left behind under this Republican administration, and they will make their voices heard at the ballot box,” she said.
When then-businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump challenged former secretary of state and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Democratic Party had 44.9 percent of the voter registration in the state, while Republicans had 31.11 — a 13.49-percent margin. Going into the 2018 midterm elections that saw Democratic candidates take the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic voter registration shrunk to 41.91 percent, while Republicans increased to 32.41 percent — a 9.5-percent margin.
The accelerated loss of voter registration for the Democratic Party went into high gear over the last six months. When the deadline for voter registrations closed May 19 for the June 9 primary, Democratic Party registrations was 38.63 percent to the Republican Party’s 34.57 percent — a margin of 4.06 percent. That margin dropped to 2.8 percent in August and 1.8 percent by the end of September.
Voter have also flocked to the unaffiliated category for voter registration. There are 288,308 West Virginians (22.73 percent) registered as unaffiliated. That’s up from 20.87 percent in 2016 and 22.14 percent in 2018.
Third parties also saw modest increases in registration over the last four years. The Libertarian Party has 8,797 registered voters at 0.69 percent of total registration, while the Mountain Party has 2,389 registered voters for 0.19 percent. That’s an increase for the Libertarian Party, which had 0.37 percent voter registration in 2016, while the Mountain Party only had 0.15 percent that same year.
Another 40,092 registered voters align with other political parties, accounting for 3.16 percent of all registered voters in the state. That’s up from 2.6 percent in 2016 and 2.86 percent in 2018.
Early voting starts today and continues every day but Sundays until Saturday, Oct. 31, at county courthouses or designated early voting locations. Polls are open during business hours during the week and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
Voter also have until Wednesday, Oct. 28, to request an absentee ballot. Voters can either go to their local county clerk to fill out an application, download and mail an application, or visit GoVoteWV.com and fill out an application online. All voters are allowed to vote absentee citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a valid medical excuse. Applications must be in the hands of county clerks no later than Oct. 28.
So far, 138,073 voters have requested absentee ballots and 91,298 ballots have already been cast for the 2020 general election.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org