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Officials expect light turnout for W.Va. primaries

May 11, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Clerks in Berkeley and Jefferson counties are expecting a low turnout in today's primary election in West Virginia, despite a host of contested local and state races and referendum questions in both counties.

Jefferson County Clerk John Ott said people don't seem to care about this year's primary races. He said few people have shown up at campaign events, and a woman told him Monday she did not know whom to vote for.

"I said, 'You had four months to read the paper,'" Ott said.

"From what I've seen, it's not going to be anything," said Ott, who predicted turnout could be 30 percent to 40 percent of registered voters or less.

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"It's pitiful," he said.

This is no sleeper of an election, Ott said. He said big issues face Jefferson County voters.

Polls are open today statewide from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Among the decisions voters must make are whether to vote for a $19 million school bond construction issue. School officials say the bond is needed to help build a second high school in Jefferson County.

If the bond issue does not pass, the county will have to return $25 million the state has awarded for the project, school officials said. School officials will have to return 57 acres of donated land to developers of the Huntfield property if the bond does not pass.

School officials plan to build the new high school on the 57 acres.

"This is big-time stuff," Ott said.

Berkeley County Clerk John Small said it is hard to gauge what voter turnout will be.

"I don't have any idea," Small said.

Small said if he had to guess, he would guess turnout could be 15 percent to 20 percent.

In addition to a wide slate of local, state and federal races, including a crowded field in the race for governor, voters in Berkeley County will decide today whether to pass a tax levy to help build, expand and improve park facilities in Berkeley County. The levy needs 60 percent, or a super majority, of the vote to pass.

For a house assessed at $100,000, the proposed levy would mean a tax increase of about $6 a year, officials said.

Residents were able to vote early through a program that started April 21. The early voting program was implemented by the state Legislature in 2001 and is meant to make voting more convenient, election officials said.

In Jefferson County, Ott said about 650 people voted early. About 500 voted early in Berkeley County, Small said.

The Secretary of State's office offered no statewide voter turnout prediction for today.

The turnout was 52.5 percent in the 1996 West Virginia primary and 41 percent in the 2000 primary, the last time the presidential and gubernatorial races were on the primary ballot, said Cindy Smith, team leader for elections.

Voter registration has increased by more than 42,000 to about 1.1 million since 2002. About 59 percent are registered Democrat, about 29 percent are Republican, fewer than 1 percent are Mountain Party and about 10 percent are nonpartisan.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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