MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Bill Maloney notched double-digit wins in Berkeley County and six other eastern West Virginia counties in Tuesday's gubernatorial election, but low voter turnout throughout the region appears to have undercut the Republican businessman's bid to defeat Earl Ray Tomblin.
Among the state's 55 counties, only three in southern West Virginia — Wyoming, McDowell and Lincoln — had a lower percentage of voters go to the polls than Berkeley County's 18 percent, according to unofficial results posted Wednesday by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office.
The turnout was especially disappointing to Berkeley County Republican Executive Committee chair Mick Staton because Tomblin's margin of victory over Maloney stood just shy of 8,000 votes on Wednesday, according to the results, which must still be reviewed and certified.
"For me, it's very frustrating," Staton said Wednesday. "This election was a turnout election, and we just didn't deliver."
Maloney netted 58 percent of more than 11,000 votes cast in Berkeley County and Tomblin received about 39 percent, according to the unofficial results. There were 63,612 registered voters in Berkeley County heading into the special election, according to the Berkeley County Clerk's office.
In Jefferson County, which has traditionally been a reliable win for Democrats, Maloney's lead over Tomblin before the results are certified stands at little more than 130 votes, but voter turnout there — 20 percent — also fell in line with the rest of the other seven eastern West Virginia counties. Unofficial tallies indicate voter turnout ranged from Berkeley County's 18 percent to 24.3 percent in Hardy County, according to Tennant's office. Average voter turnout statewide was 24.6 percent, according to Tennant's office.
Longtime Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr. said Wednesday that he couldn't recall voter turnout in the county ever being "real great" for whatever reason.
One option Small would like to try, if allowed by the state, would be to allow people to vote as late as 9 or 10 p.m. on two or three days of the 10-day early voting period. Early voting in Berkeley County and most other counties in West Virginia is held between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and Small said the time extension could be more accommodating to people who commute out of the county to work.
When asked about the reasons for the low turnout for Tuesday's election, Small said a number of county residents who work in the Baltimore-Washington area "probably haven't been here long enough to get involved to know who's Maloney or Earl Ray."
Niles Bernick, chairman of the county's Democratic Executive Committee, said party officials this year did more on the ground to try to get out the vote than past elections. Bernick said many voters also considered the election unnecessary and that it was too expensive.
Staton said Maloney's campaign deployed people to the area to try to increase voter turnout. Yet, phone calls and door-to-door campaigning yielded disappointing responses such as "There's an election?" and "Who's Bill Maloney?" Staton said.
And that came after Maloney spent "a lot of time over here," Staton said.
"We've tried to address (the low turnout) a number of ways," Staton said. "I wish I knew what we could do."