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Nearly 10,000 vote early in Berkeley, Jefferson counties

October 28, 2008|By DAVE MCMILLION and MATTHEW UMSTEAD

EASTERN PANHANDLE, W.Va. -- Excitement might be building as the general election nears, but for thousands of residents in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, voting is already behind them.

Since early voting started across the state on Oct. 15, nearly 10,000 people in Berkeley and Jefferson counties have voted in what election officials say has been an impressive turnout.

Early voting ends at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Before early voting began, Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr. predicted 5,000 people, "maybe more," would cast ballots before election day.

"My new target is 10,000," Small said Monday afternoon after a turnout of 861 voters Saturday pushed the tally to 5,378.

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Another 800 voted Monday, pushing the tally past 6,000, Deputy Clerk Bonnie Woodfall said.

By mid-afternoon Monday, the total number of early voters stood at a little more than 3,800 in Jefferson County, Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan said.

Although Maghan said she did not have comparative early voting numbers from previous elections, she said Monday's total was "way higher than normal." Jefferson County voting officials were surprised Saturday when a line of early voters at the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Charles Town stretched out the front door and up Washington Street.

"It's just been amazing," Maghan said.

The line was heavy at times again Monday as voters were backed up inside the courthouse, government workers said.

Krystal Harger of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., was voting early for the second time Monday and said she loved being able to take care of the duty ahead of Election Day.

"I hope the system is working," said Harger, referring to problems in other parts of the state with the accuracy of touch-screen voting machines.

Although Jefferson County has switched to new voting machines with touch-screen capability, the system is not like the others that have resulted in problems and is based on a paper ballot that allows for a hand count if necessary, Maghan said.

In response to concerns about the accuracy of the county's touch-screen voting machines, Small said all Berkeley County voters are being given an unsharpened pencil to make their selections with the eraser end.

Small said the pencils offer more precision to making selections on the touch screen for people with thick fingers or long fingernails.

Small said his office ordered 70 dozen lead pencils last week to be distributed to each of the county's voting precincts for Election Day.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said last week he was aware of a couple of voters who reported difficulty last week.

"One was my wife," Stubblefield said.

"She just kept pushing on it to get it (right)," Stubblefield said Thursday.

By Monday afternoon, 1,179 early voters in Morgan County had cast votes, said Debra Kesecker, Morgan County clerk. The office has been very busy, she said, with usually more than 100 people coming in to vote each day since early voting began.

Last Saturday, 85 people showed up to vote, Kesecker said.

Staff writer Trish Rudder contributed to this story. 

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