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W.Va. voters flock to the polls early

October 14, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Led by a trio of women wearing suffrage-era period clothing, about 50 people - mostly women - marched a block to the Berkeley County Courthouse Wednesday during West Virginia's first day of early voting.

All John Kerry supporters, the women were told that by law they had to remove any pins or other visible campaign materials before entering the courthouse. One woman had a paper bag ready to collect such items.

By noon, nearly 150 Democrats, Republicans and Independents had cast ballots, said Berkeley County Clerk John Small. The county has 51,736 registered voters, including 20,680 Democrats and 20,482 Republicans, Small said. However, he released those figures at noon, five hours before the deadline to register.

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During the early voting period, any registered voter can go to their county courthouse and cast a ballot, just as they would on Nov. 2. Signs posted outside of the courthouse encourage people to "Vote early. Avoid lines at the polls."

In the May primary, more than 27,000 people across the state voted early, according to Secretary of State Joe Manchin.

"The point behind early voting is to make it as convenient as possible for people to vote," said Mary Diamond, West Virginia Republican National Committee spokesperson. "We're thrilled about it."

Vicki Douglas, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates for 12 years, said the march was held for several reasons, including that Democrats are trying to encourage women to vote.

The next four years will affect women's issues, families and the safety of both citizens and soldiers. It also will affect how easily soldiers are able to return home from abroad, Douglas said.

Douglas also hoped to clear up any confusion between absentee voting - when ballots are mailed in - and early voting.

She said early voting could especially benefit older citizens who are wary of voting on election day, when it's not known how long they will have to stand in line.

Small agreed that older citizens are more likely to take advantage of early voting.

"Not too many young people come out early," Small said. "I think most of them (older voters) are trying to avoid the rush on election day."

He said the courthouse was a "madhouse" at one point.

"They were waiting at 8:30 (a.m.) to get in for both registering (to vote) and voting," Small said.

A similar march to the Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town, W.Va., was planned by a Democratic group Wednesday morning, and Diamond said several Republicans also voted in groups as a show of support for President Bush.

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