West Virginia residents pack polling places for early voting

CROSS LANES, W.Va. (AP) — On a glorious fall day, West Virginia residents turned out in droves to cast their ballots on the first day of early in-person voting Wednesday, less than two weeks before the November election.

Long lines were reported in several polling places throughout the state.

Todd Dorcas of Cross Lanes waited for more than an hour to vote in his hometown in Kanawha County, the state’s largest county, which had the most early voting locations with eight.

The nation’s turbulent political climate had him chomping at the bit to vote.

“There definitely needs to be some change. We need some change,” Dorcas said. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”

In Charleston, the line at a downtown polling place office wrapped around a city block.

Voters were required to wear masks inside polling places due to the coronavirus pandemic, except for people with certain medical conditions. One couple did not wear them in line but put them on once they entered the polling place, Dorcas said.

Active cases of the coronavirus in West Virginia have increased 25% in October as state officials push for more testing. There have been at least 434 virus-related deaths in the state since the start of the pandemic, an increase of 24% this month.

Early voting was available at nearly 100 locations in all 55 counties. Most locations were scheduled to be open on weekdays by 9 a.m. The early voting period runs through Oct. 31.

Both the state Democratic and Republican parties have encouraged residents to vote early.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Salango, running against incumbent GOP Gov. Jim Justice, held a rally Tuesday night in Charleston to mark the start of the early voting period.

President Donald Trump carried West Virginia by a whopping 42 percentage points in 2016. In addition to the presidential and governor’s races, voters will decide races for other statewide offices, along with U.S. Senate, U.S. House, the state Senate and House of Delegates.

More than 91,000 voters had returned absentee ballots in West Virginia as of Tuesday, or 66% of the ballots requested. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 28.

In addition, more than 1,000 voters have cast ballots using an electronic absentee method that is limited to active military and overseas voters as well as those with a qualifying disability.

As of Oct. 13, the latest date available, the state had nearly 1.27 million registered voters, of which 37% were registered Democrats, 36% were registered Republicans and 23% had no party affiliation, according to the secretary of state’s website.

In 2016, about 45% of registered state voters called themselves Democrats, compared to 31% Republicans and about 21% with no party affiliation.

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