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W.Va. voters casting ballots early

November 04, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Voters in the Eastern Panhandle are taking advantage of a new early voting program, prompting some election officials to say it will increase voter turnout in the general election.

"This is going over and above whatever we expected," said Lefty Files, a Democratic ballot commissioner for Berkeley County, W.Va. "There is a tremendous number of people coming out of cracks in the walls to vote."

The West Virginia Secretary of State's office this year implemented No Excuse Absentee Voting, which allows residents to cast ballots in person before Election Day.

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Courthouses in each county began accepting early votes Oct. 21. Residents who want to vote before Tuesday's election still have the option of filling out a ballot from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

The Saturday hours were added to allow residents who are not able to vote during normal weekday business hours the opportunity to cast their absentee ballots in person rather than by mail.

"We've been busy, busy, busy for two weeks," Files said.

He estimated 800 people had come in by Friday morning to vote.

"We normally have 30 percent voter turnout in an off-year election. This will up that percentage," he said.

Voters say they like the flexibility.

"They say it's the best thing that ever happened. They don't have to take off work to go to the polls, and don't have to go to the polls and stand in line," Files said.

Heather Tyler, deputy clerk for Morgan County, W.Va., said voters there also were taking advantage of the program.

While complete figures aren't yet available, she said before Friday at least 300 people had voted.

"It's going smoothly, but it's very hectic" because of the number of people coming into the office to vote, she said.

In Jefferson County, W.Va., an absentee ballot clerk who declined to identify herself said the flow of voters has been constant, totaling around 500.

Voters with questions on the process or their voting rights should call the secretary of state's office at 1-304-558-6000 or toll-free at 1-866-SOS-VOTE and ask for the Elections Division.

People with concerns on Election Day also should call those numbers.

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