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WV presidential primary turnout largest in 40 years

WHEELING, W.Va. — Turnout for West Virginia’s primary election on Tuesday was the largest in the state for a presidential primary election in 40 years. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, still, only four in 10 registered voters in the state cast ballots.

The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday reported a statewide voter turnout of 40 percent for Tuesday. This compares to just 27 percent in 2012, and 36 percent for the 2008 presidential primary election.

In 2004, voter turnout for the presidential primary was 31 percent; in 2000, 30 percent; in 1996, 30 percent; in 1992, 36 percent; in 1988, 35 percent; in 1984, 35 percent; and in 1980, 33 percent.

The last time voter turnout in West Virginia exceeded 40 percent for a presidential primary election was in 1976, when 43 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Locally, the highest turnout rate was in Marshall County, where 45.8 percent of voters cast ballots on Tuesday. There are 20,609 registered voters in the county, and 9,457 voted.

Clerk Jan Pest said the turnout was “the highest in a long time” for Marshall County.

“People were so apathetic for so long,” she said. “Some candidate riled them up. I was thinking it was all Trump. Then Bernie Sanders won. People just took an interest in specific candidates, and it made them feel like they were making a significant change.”

One of those candidates stirring interest likely was state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, a Glen Dale resident who ran for governor. While Kessler ran third in the race behind winner Jim Justice and runner-up Booth Goodwin, he did win all counties in the Northern Panhandle except Hancock County.

There also was a higher-than-usual number of people wanting to cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary election whose names couldn’t be found in polling books, according to Pest. These people cast provisional ballots, and the 96 provisional ballots cast in the county will be considered for addition to official vote totals during a canvass of votes on Monday.

Turnout in Ohio and Wetzel counties was 44 percent, while Tyler County was close behind at 43 percent. Hancock County came in at just under 33 percent and Brooke County, just under 32 percent.

Brooke County Clerk Sylvia Benzo reported “a few complications” in tabulating results after it was discovered some voting machines had not been properly closed by poll workers.

Elections staff had to drive to these locations to tend to the machines, meaning final voting results weren’t available until after 11:30 p.m.

She said the voter turnout figure of 32 percent was comparable to past presidential elections in Brooke County.

Benzo had expressed concerns about voter turnout after the end of early voting season on Saturday, during which only 678 voters cast ballots. This was about half as many as in recent elections.

“Evidently they came out to the polls (on Tuesday),” she said. “We saw steady lines throughout the day.”

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