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Turnout light for early voting in W.Va.

April 23, 2008

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Officials in the Eastern Panhandle reported a light turnout for early voting Wednesday, the first of 15 days voters can cast ballots in West Virginia before the May 13 primary election.

In Berkeley County, 60 ballots were cast, with 44 voters weighing in on the Democratic Party's contest versus 16 for the Republicans, according to county's voters registration division.

"It's not as busy as I thought it would be," said Bonnie Woodfall, the supervising deputy for County Clerk John W. Small.

Registered voters in Berkeley and Jefferson counties can vote from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through May 10, except this coming Saturday and Sundays.

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To accommodate early voters at 110 W. King St., Small said the City of Martinsburg extended free parking to include the entire 100 block of West King Street on the north side in front of the historic county courthouse and neighboring voter registration office.

Ruchelle Williams of Martinsburg said she voted early Wednesday because work was taking her out of town during the primary.

"I only voted for president and I left everything else blank," said Williams, who admitted she didn't know enough about the candidates running for state and local offices.

Four years after voting for President Bush, Williams said she voted for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, citing moral character as an issue in her decision. Her husband, Darrick, is undecided, she said.

"Considering the background of the Clintons, ... I think (West Virginians) may be ready for a change," Williams said.

Renee M. Hudson of Inwood, W.Va., said she voted Wednesday just to get it over with.

Though she voted for Clinton, who has enjoyed a lead in state polls, Hudson said she believes Obama might pull out a win in the Mountain State.

"I think that he's going to take West Virginia. I just have that feeling," Hudson said. "I don't think she's going to win, but I voted for her."

Hudson didn't think she would ever see a woman make it this far.

"When it happened this year, ... it's exciting to even think a woman could be in there," said Hudson, who was more interested in voting the sheriff's race than any other.

In Jefferson County, about 80 people had voted as of mid-afternoon Wednesday, said Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan.

Maghan said the number was a little low, although she predicted a large turnout in the election due to the interest in the presidential election and a large number of local races.

As of 4:45 p.m., the number of early voters had risen to 90, according to Maghan's office.

Independent voters can vote in this year's primary election and there seemed to be some confusion in that process Wednesday, Maghan said.

Two independent voters at the Jefferson County Courthouse said they were confused that only the non-partisan Jefferson County Board of Education race was on their non-partisan ballot, Maghan said.

To vote Democratic or Republican, independent voters must ask specifically for one of those ballots, Maghan said.

The ballots for the two voters had to be spoiled so they could vote again in other races, Maghan said.

Maghan also emphasized that the deadline to register to vote has passed.

Among those voting early in Jefferson County was Chris Wolf of Kearneysville, W.Va.

Wolf said she was "super excited" about national races and when asked what she thought of the state of affairs in the country, she responded, "Got an hour?"

Although there are many tough problems in the country now, there is hope through the Democratic process, Wolf said.

"I think we're a work in progress," Wolf said.

Wolf said she is a faithful Democrat but declined to say whom she voted for.

Also voting early was Bob Graf of Charles Town. Graf said he is glad early voting was implemented because it allows more people to vote.

Although Graf declined to say how he voted in other races, he voted for Obama for president because he felt Obama can "lift up the vision" of Americans.

-- By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

and DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

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