CHARLES TOWN – With the primary election just over a month away, voters this week have the chance for an up-close look at many of the candidates.
The nonpartisan Jefferson County League of Women Voters’ forum with candidates running for school board, Jefferson County Sheriff and the West Virginia House of Delegates begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Charles Town Library.
With voter turnout at a dismal 14 percent among registered voters in both Jefferson and Berkeley counties for the 2010 primary election, leaders of the League of Women Voters say they’re hoping to see more citizens become involved this time around.
Voter apathy remains a major challenge, says Tina Burns, one of the organizers of Thursday’s event who also is involved in the league’s voter registration drives. “Many times we are told ‘I won’t register—my vote won’t make a difference’ or ‘I don’t know the candidates or the issues,’” Burns said.
The bitter divide between Democrats and Republicans and the growing influence of money at the national level are a turnoff to many, Burns said.
“They are disillusioned,” she said. “We encourage them to register and remind them also of the importance of local elections such as the county commissions, school board, sheriff, etc. and the impact that those offices have on their lives and those of their children.”
Both for faithful voters as well as those who have stayed away from the polls, Thursday’s forum will provide important information, Burns explains. “The forums are invaluable for a voter to assess the candidates and their positions to help them make an informed decision,” she said.
About 33,000 are registered to vote in the county, according to Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan, the county’s chief election authority.
The county’s total population stood at 53,501 after the most recent census. Slightly more than 23 percent of the county’s residents are 18 or younger, making most of them too young to vote this year.
Eligible residents who aren’t registered have until April 22 to sign up and still take part in the May 13 primary, Maghan said.
Americans who can vote and don’t must puzzle others around the worldwide, Burns said.
“People around the world risk their lives for the opportunity to vote – it is happening right now in Afghanistan, with people waiting in line for hours to register,” she said. “The Taliban is threatening to kill those going to the polls or registering to vote, and yet it appears that the Afghans are going to respond in great numbers in order to vote.”
Renny Smith, another League of Women Voters forum leader, said she’s grateful for events such as Thursday’s public forum.
“I cherish the opportunity to get to know the candidates and participate fully in our government,” said Smith, who formerly worked as a Foreign Service officer. “In one country where we have lived, we witnessed a descent into chaos as the voters let their responsibilities slide. In another, we saw civil war as years of empire ended and people could see no other way to get a government that represented them.”
Thursday’s event, set to last until 9 p.m., will include brief presentations from the unopposed candidates and question-and-answer periods for those in contested races.
Want to go?
What: Candidates forum
Who: Put on by the nonpartisan Jefferson County League of Women Voters
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Charles Town Library, 200 E. Washington St. (museum entrance)
To know more: Go online to lwv-jcwv.org
Who’ll be there?
Set to attend Thursday’s candidate forum in Charles Town are Jefferson County Board of Education members Mariland Dunn Lee and Scott Sudduth, who are seeking reelection; and Laurie Ogden, Kathy Skinner and Alan Sturm, who are seeking to fill out the term created when Pete Daugherty resigned last year to become sheriff. The race is nonpartisan and will be decided in the May 13 primary.
In the race for the West Virginia House of Delegates’ 67th district, Delegate Stephen Skinner, a Democrat, is unopposed in his party in seeking a second term. Patricia Rucker is seeking the Republican nomination. Both will take part in Thursday’s forum. Another Republican in the race, W. Matthew Harris Sr., has declined the League of Women Voters’ invitation.
In the race for Jefferson County Sheriff, Sheriff Pete Dougherty, a Democrat appointed to the seat in 2013, will attend, along with two Republicans seeking to replace him: Brian Parrish Sr. and Steven Sowers Sr.
The primary election happens May 13. Early voting begins April 30.