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Reporter’s Notebook: Charleston odds and ends

CHARLESTON — I feel like a walking countdown clock, but we are now 36 days away from the Tuesday, Nov. 3, general election.

October starts on Thursday. Absentee ballots are already being sent out by county clerks across the state. According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, county clerks received 85,297 verified absentee ballot applications, with 4,754 absentee ballots already returned.

To put that in perspective, 6.8 percent of the state’s 1.2 million registered voters have requested absentee ballots. By comparison, 21.3 percent of registered voters requested absentee ballots for the June 9 primary. It’s still early yet, but I suspect either there will be a rush of absentee ballot requests leading up to the Wednesday, Oct. 28, deadline for requests or we won’t see as many requests.

There is a real, though mostly unsubstantiated, fear that mailed-in ballots will have issues. Either the U.S. Postal Service will not get ballots to county clerks in time to be counted or there will be so many ballots that somehow county clerks will let ballots fall through the cracks.

Look, if you’re voting by absentee ballot, you need to cast your ballot and mail it in quickly. If you’re waiting to cast your ballot until closer to Election Day, then hand deliver your ballot to your county clerk on Monday, Nov. 2. That date is the deadline for hand delivery of absentee ballots.

Most importantly: read the directions that come with your absentee ballot and follow those directions step by step and to the letter. If you don’t follow the directions, your ballot could have issues. It’s not a conspiracy, you just didn’t follow the directions.

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While doing some research and writing for a series of election how-to guides, I came across the Secretary of State’s after-action report for the June 9 primary.

Of note: Republicans were more likely to vote in-person during early voting during the primary and on June 9, while Democratic voters were more likely to vote absentee. For Republicans, 59.9 percent voted in person, while 40.2 percent voted by absentee ballot. For Democratic voters, 42.8 percent voted in person, while 57.2 voted by absentee ballot.

Geographically speaking, Southern West Virginia voters were highly suspicious of absentee voting. Take Mingo County for example: 88.1 percent of Republicans and 81.7 percent of Democratic voters cast ballots in person for the primary. In Logan County, 85.2 percent of Republicans voted in person, while 69.2 percent of Democratic voters did so in person. In most Southern West Virginia counties the majority of Republican and Democratic voters chose to go to the polls in person.

Only two counties had a majority of Republican voters voting by absentee ballot: Tucker at 52.3 percent, and Upshur at 51.4 percent. In Morgan County, 74.7 percent of Democratic voters did so by absentee ballot, followed again by Upshur County with 72.3 percent of Democratic voters.

It makes sense based on the anecdotal stories I heard about voters choosing to vote in person instead of by absentee ballot once Gov. Jim Justice lifted the stay-at-home order at the beginning of May. Of the 262,503 voters who requested absentee ballots, only 224,777 voters actually cast the absentee ballot, or nearly half of the total 450,909 ballots cast in the primary. That leaves 37,726 ballots that were never cast. In some cases, voters brought their absentee ballot to their polling place so it could be spoiled, and they could vote in person as normal.

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As we inch closer to Election Day, candidates are getting on the air to get their message out.

Of course, Gov. Justice has practically never left the air. It’s been argued, and I agree, that Justice being livestreamed via YouTube (and sometimes carried live by TV and radio) likely helped him win the June 9 primary. Justice now only comes into our computers and phone three days a week, but now they’re getting back into tradition TV ads.

The new ad released last week focuses on Justice being endorsed by President Donald Trump (who engineered Justice’s switch from Democrat back to Republican), being a businessman (with numerous lawsuits and settlements over unpaid bills and fines), cutting taxes (even though in 2017 he proposed the largest tax increase since former governor Gaston Caperton in the late 1980s), erasing the budget deficits (yes, that did happen, including during COVID-19).

“As your Governor, my top priority is to ensure that hard-working West Virginians have good jobs, cutting taxes, slashing regulation, and investing in roads,” Justice said. “That’s how we’ll strengthen our economy.”

Kanawha County Commissioner and Democratic challenger Ben Salango is also up with a TV ad criticizing Justice for not working fast enough to repair roads in other parts of the state while making sure the road to the Justice-owned Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs is brand new.

“This road is nice,” Salango said in the ad while walking along the road. “Too bad the roads where the rest of us live and work are a disgrace.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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