Secretary of state, CDC encourage Election Day safety, despite high turnout for early, absentee voting | News

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HUNTINGTON — While a quarter of West Virginia’s registered voters have already made their choices, local county clerks will still be pushing precautions Tuesday to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Virginia, which has 1,268,460 registered voters, had 128,744 registered voters return their absentee ballots as of Thursday, with an additional 198,445 voting early. Combined, nearly 25% of West Virginia voters have voted.

Also because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all West Virginians were eligible to vote absentee in the 2020 general election, and statewide, voters requested 153,469 absentee ballots for the general election.

Based on current numbers, Mike Queen, communications director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said election officials are estimating that about 46% of the state’s more than 1.2 million registered voters will participate in the 2020 general election, which would mark the largest voter turnout in the state’s history.

As of Thursday, 17,254 of Cabell County’s 59,695 registered voters, or about 29%, had voted. Of those, 7,528 were returned absentee ballots and 9,726 voted early. The county saw 34,133 votes — about 58% — cast in the 2016 general election.

In Wayne County, 5,601 of its 27,830 registered voters — about 20% — had voted — 2,290 being absentee ballots and 3,311 early voters. Wayne County had 15,776 voters — 56% — cast a vote in the 2016 general election.

Putnam County had seen 13,967 of its 40,344 registered voters — about 35% — make their selections. Of that, 4,843 were absentee ballots and 9,124 early votes. The county had 25,687 voters — about 66% — cast ballots in the 2016 election.

Still, the election doesn’t end when the voting does, and it’s possible some races won’t be decided until after election canvassing takes place starting Nov. 9, the Monday after the 2020 general election.

There will be absentee ballots trickling in by mail and provisional ballots for county clerks to process, said Secretary of State Mac Warner, and there’s a system for each to follow.

Still, county clerks have been preparing to help make voting places as safe as possible for anyone voting in person Tuesday, Nov. 3. On Election Day, polls in West Virginia will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

In Ohio, polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. In Kentucky, polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and anyone who is in line as of 6 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory Thursday stating the longer the interaction at polling places, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. By encouraging early and absentee voting, the chance for an outbreak decreases.

It encourages cleaning and disinfection of the polling places, mask wearing and social distancing by both voters and poll workers to help lower chances even more. There is also a recommendation that hand sanitizer be available for use at each step of the voting process.

In June, Warner announced the State Election Commission would help to reimburse counties for the increased cost of the elections, the majority of which covers increases in absentee ballots and postage.

Absentee ballots can be mailed until Tuesday, and ballots that are postmarked for that day and arrive in county clerks’ offices before canvassing begins will be counted.

If a county clerk hasn’t received a ballot by Tuesday, voters can cast a provisional ballot in person at their local polling places.

People voting absentee can track their ballots either by calling their local county clerk’s office to see whether the ballot has been received or by using the absentee ballot tracker on the secretary of state’s website. Voters must list their first and last names and birth date to see whether county clerks have received their ballots.

Voters concerned about whether clerks will receive absentee ballots in time by mail can bring the ballots to polling places and cast provisional ballots in person.

There is no criminal punishment for people who cast provisional ballots in person if their absentee ballot gets stuck or slowed en route to their county clerk’s office, Warner said.

Warner noted that at this point in the election season, voters can mail in absentee ballots, but he said the best way to guarantee the ballot arrives in time to be counted is to drop it off directly at a county clerk’s office.

“The mail is extremely reliable and I encourage people to use it,” Warner said Friday. “The only issue is if they wait until the last day … the post office itself recommends people send in their ballots at least seven days prior, and we’re four days out right now (from Tuesday). There is no time to waste.”

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