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Big voter turnout predicted in Tri-State

November 06, 2000

Big voter turnout predicted in Tri-State



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


Election officials are predicting that turnout may be heavy today in the general election as voters in West Virginia and Pennsylvania head to the polls to cast ballots in local, state and national races, including U.S. president.

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"I think turnout could be as high as 68 percent based on the absentee ballots," said Berkeley County Clerk John Small. Monday afternoon, he revised his estimate upwards from a prediction of 55-60 percent earlier in the day. About 1,200 absentee ballots have been turned in.

"I don't know what's bringing them in, but something is," Small said.

Voting begins in the Eastern Panhandle at 6:30 a.m. and concludes at 7:30 p.m. First returns from Berkeley County should begin rolling in about 9 p.m., Small said. Berkeley County has 46 precincts.

Berkeley County Commissioner Robert Burkhart, who first ran for office in 1962 but is not on today's ballot, said he expects a turnout of 72 percent.

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"I think 1,200 absentees is probably a record," said Burkhart, the former Circuit Clerk who had some responsibility for elections. "Back when I was circuit clerk 450-500 was a lot. Of course we have a much larger (voter) registration now." The county has a record registration of almost 39,000 voters.

"I think it's all the campaigns together," he said, speculating on the reason for the turnout. "There's going to be a lot of close races."

In addition to president and governor, Eastern Panhandle voters will help elect a new member to Congress in what has been a tight, hard-fought race. Several local races, including one for a new county commissioner, and races for prosecutor and sheriff also have heightened interest.

All local members of the West Virginia Legislature who must seek election have chosen to do so and many of them have drawn hard-fought challenges.

In Jefferson County, voters will select a new sheriff, a new Jefferson County Commissioner from the Middleway District, three county magistrates and will vote on races for the 55th House of Delegates seat and the 56th House of Delegates seat.

Voters also will cast ballots for the 16th District state Senate seat, which represents all three Eastern Panhandle counties in the Legislature.

Jefferson County Clerk John Ott predicted voter turnout could reach 60 percent today.

Ott said his prediction was based on the high number of absentee ballots that had already been cast in the county.

About 700 absentee ballots were turned in for the election, the most local election officials can remember in recent history.

"I think a lot of people went ahead and absentee voted figuring they would have to stand in line," Ott said Monday.

If there is a line at any of the county's 30 precincts at the close of polling today, voters in line will be given a number, which will allow them to enter their polling place after polls close to cast their votes, Ott said.

Those who try to get in line after numbers are given out will not be allowed to vote, Ott said.

With Pennsylvania expected to be one of the deciding states in today's election, Franklin County, Pa., Chief Registrar Jennie Aines expects to see a very high turnout.

"I think with all of the press that Pennsylvania is one of the states that could help decide the election, Pennsylvanians may get out to vote if they feel they have some say," Aines said.

She expects turnout will be at least as high as the 1996 presidential election when 74 percent of Franklin County residents who were registered cast their votes

Stacey Danzuso and Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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