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As WV primary approaches, some switching parties

WHEELING, W.Va. — The primary election in West Virginia is less than two months away, and county elections officials report they are already seeing a steady stream of voters registering for the first time – with others wanting to change their political affiliations before Election Day.

The first absentee ballots for the election are scheduled to be mailed out as soon as Friday.

Residents needing to register to vote or make changes to their current registration have until April 19 to file the paperwork with their home county. Early voting in the state begins April 27 and lasts through May 7. Election Day is May 10.

Prior to the primary election, voters in West Virginia choose a party affiliation on their registration to indicate which ballot they choose to vote. Those with no party affiliation, however, must tell the pollworker on Election Day which ticket they want.

Democrats have historically outnumbered Republicans in West Virginia in terms of voter registration. As of Feb. 29, there were 579,515 registered Democrats in West Virginia, 362,870 Republicans and 247,461 with no party affiliation.

Local registration numbers reflect a similar breakdown. In Ohio County, there were 12,672 Democrats, 9,107 Republicans and 5,237 with no party affiliation registered to vote in the county.

Toni Chieffalo, coordinator of elections in Ohio County, said while more updated numbers are not yet available, she has seen a trend of voters switching from Democrat to Republican for the election. There are also voters choosing no party affiliation.

“It also seems there are more people coming out to vote,” Chieffalo said. “We’re getting a lot of new voters. Many of them are middle-aged people who have never been registered to vote before.”

Marshall County had 9,539 Democrats, 5,999 Republicans and 4,225 not affiliated with any party. And Marshall County Clerk Jan Pest said she has seen the same trend happening in her county.

“Every day we are seeing people coming through,” she said. “They are either changing over to Republican, or to non-party. … But the hard part isn’t getting them registered. It’s getting them to the polls.”

Brooke County had 10,421 Democrats, 4,225 Republicans and 3,519 with no party affiliation.

“Yes, we have been seeing changes,” said Brooke County Clerk Sylvia Benzo. “Most are going over to Republican, and we’ve had a number of non-party changes.”

In Hancock County, there were 12,909 Democrats, 6,467 Republicans and 4,615 not affiliated with a party.

“We are seeing both sides going over to the other side,” said clerk’s office employee Barbara Ross. “There have been a couple going non-party, but not a lot.”

There were 6,839 registered Democrats in Wetzel County, 2,612 Republicans and 1,742 with no party affiliation.

County Clerk Carol Haught said she has seen more voters switching their party affiliation to non-party designations.

“It’s been a little brisk, but I’m not sure how high the numbers are, ” she said.

Tyler County is the only county in the Northern Panhandle where Republicans outnumber Democrats. There are 2,989 Republicans in Tyler County, 2,003 Democrats and 1,287 with no party ties.

Tyler County Clerk Teresea Hamilton said several people have come in to change parties, and others have registered to vote for the first time. She sees a trend there moving toward no party affiliations.

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