34,000 vote early in West Virginia primary

CHARLESTON (AP) — About 34,000 West Virginians have voted early ahead of Tuesday’s primary, a figure that reflects a relatively small number of contested races in a nonpresidential election year.

The figure released by the Secretary of State’s office Friday includes both in-person and absentee ballots cast. The early votes aren’t counted after the polls close Tuesday.

The early voting period opened April 30 and ends Saturday. Voting hours in specific counties are available on the Secretary of State’s website at www.wvsos.com.

Early voting was implemented for the 2002 primary. During nonpresidential election cycles, 40,557 votes were cast in the state during the early voting period in 2010, 25,861 votes in 2006 and 14,522 in 2002.

The lone statewide race in the primary involves the U.S. Senate, where three candidates each are running in the Democratic and Republican primaries to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Jay Rockefeller.

Fewer than half of the 67 House of Delegates districts and only four of 17 Senate seats up for election have contested races next week.

Seven candidates are seeking the Republican nomination in a bid to succeed 2nd District GOP Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, who is running for the Rockefeller’s Senate seat. The 2nd District stretches more than 300 miles from the Ohio River on the state’s western border to the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle.

In southern West Virginia, a fuller-than-usual Democratic primary has kept the Mingo County clerk’s office busy. Deputy Mingo County Clerk Judy Harvey said about 500 people have voted early in the county of 26,000 residents.

“I think it’s been pretty good, not being a presidential election (year),” Harvey said. “We still have all day today and tomorrow. Everything’s going smooth.”

Aside from legislative races, the county’s primary will determine who fills the remainder of unexpired terms for circuit judge, prosecutor, chief magistrate and a county commissioner. The four previous officeholders resigned after their convictions in a federal corruption investigation. Mingo County voters also will choose a new sheriff one year after Sheriff Eugene Crum was fatally shot in a Williamson parking lot.

Voter registration totals show there are more than 1.2 million registered voters in the state, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 625,520 to 352,610.

The fastest-growing segment of the state’s electorate involves people registered with no party affiliation. There are more than 221,700 such voters, compared to less than 85,000 in 2000.

The early voting figures including 18,706 ballots cast by registered Democrats and 9,929 by registered Republicans.

Both major parties allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in their primaries. Nearly 2,500 had done so as of Thursday.

The state-based Mountain Party also has ballot access in West Virginia and has two House of Delegates candidates. Its voters have cast 13 early ballots.

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