Early voting turnout starts big
Turnout for West Virginia's first day of early voting was up nearly 45 percent from the same time in 2008.
Unofficial totals from the Secretary of State's Office indicate 14,787 people voted Wednesday. An average of 10,206 people voted early each day prior to Election Day in 2008.
Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick said the increase was likely due to a change in state law that shortened the early voting period.
In 2011, state lawmakers lessened the period by two days, from 15 to 13. McCormick was glad to see the shorter period hadn't put off voters.
The first day's numbers indicate 2008 turnout will be met or surpassed, she said.
In Kanawha County, 1,290 people cast ballots Wednesday, compared to 713 on the first day of early voting in 2008.
A total of 721 Democrats voted in Kanawha County Wednesday. Republicans accounted for 414 ballots. Twenty independents, two Libertarians, one Mountain Party member and one Principal Party member also voted. There were 131 voters who did not identify a party.
"We had 24 people come through the first 10 minutes we were open," McCormick said. "I think people are just more geared up and excited about this election is the reason we had a good day."
In 2008, more than 153,000 people voted early in West Virginia. They accounted for 21 percent of the total number of votes cast in the state that year.
Generally, experts see early voting rates as a good indicator for the level of participation in the election as a whole.
Neil Berch, associate professor of political science at West Virginia University, said trends point to a rise in early voting nationwide.
"It's obviously a little early to tell what's going on," he said. "But people just seem to find (early voting) easier than going out on Election Day."
West Virginia voters need all the help they can get.
In the last presidential election, fewer than half of West Virginians turned out. At 49.9 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the state had the second-lowest turnout in the country. Only Hawaii had a lower turnout.
West Virginia's turnout was 18 percentage points below Minnesota, the state with the most engaged voters, and six points below the national average.
Berch said this could be explained by looking at the state's demographics.
Research shows, for example, that socio-economic status is closely tied to a person's likelihood to vote. That's an obstacle in West Virginia, which has more people living in poverty than the national average.
State voters are also up against less-than-accommodating voter registration laws, he said, because West Virginia voters are required to register to vote at least 21 days before an election. Plenty of states have even stricter rules, he said, but voter registration laws, no matter how well intentioned, tend to keep voters from the polls.
"The biggest stumbling block to voting is getting registered," he said.
The total number of eligible, registered voters in West Virginia is currently 1,246,559, according to the Secretary of State's Office. Of those, 134,691 live in Kanawha County.
Early voting continues through Nov. 3.