How do WV's early voting numbers compare? - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

How do WV's early voting numbers compare?

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Voters in West Virginia may suffer election fatigue, but that hasn't stopped them from casting their ballots early.

More than 33,061 voters have cast early or absentee ballots in West Virginia ahead of the Nov. 6 general election. The numbers, as of Oct. 26, reflect 17,741 Democrats, 11,027 Republicans and 4,293 who are identified as Mountain Party, no party or other cast their ballots as early voters. An additional 7,568 voters had filled out absentee ballots. Of that number, 3,729 absentee ballots were filled out by Democrats, 2,872 were filled out by Republicans and nearly 1,000 were filled out by third-party members or those with no party affiliation.

More than 640,000 voters are registered as Democrats, 358,655 are registered Republicans, 1,385 are registered with the Mountain Party, West Virginia's version of the Green Party and more than 220,000 are registered as having no party affiliation.

So how do those numbers compare with surrounding states?

Three of the five states bordering West Virginia do not offer early voting. Voters in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia must offer acceptable excuses to their voting boards in order to obtain an absentee ballot.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky state code specifies seven reasons for voters to qualify for mail-in absentee ballots. In addition, the law also establishes six reasons for voters to cast an absentee vote early by walking into their county clerks' offices. Things like surgery and temporary residence outside of the state are among accepted excuses for walk-in early absentee voting.

Each county in Kentucky must open a polling place at the clerk's office at least 12 days before Election Day for those who qualify for walk-in absentee voting. Campbell and Boone counties are among the first counties this election cycle to open for walk-in absentee voting. Polling places in those counties opened Sept. 25, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, a research-based website ran by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University, about 20,625 voters have cast mail-in or walk-in absentee ballots in Kentucky as of Oct. 8. Of those, 11,621 absentee ballots were requested.

The numbers in Virginia are much higher. According to the Elections Project, more than 247,000 Virginians have early voted either in person or via mail-in ballots as of Oct. 23. In 2008, 226,554 total voters cast early ballots. That means Virginia has already seen 21,277 more early ballots cast so far this general election than in the entire early voting period in 2008. In-person absentee voting in the commonwealth began Sept. 21. Absentee ballots were also mailed that day.

According to Nikki Sheridan, confidential policy adviser with the Virginia State Board of Elections, the board does not track absentee voter party affiliation, race or ethnicity. However, they do keep track of how men and women vote, as well as different age groups. In order to secure an absentee ballot, voters must give a reason, and those reasons are tracked. Students, those in the military and those working elections are some of those who qualify for absentee ballots.

Numbers for Pennsylvania were not available.

Meanwhile in Maryland, officials sent out more than 147,000 absentee ballots, and 48,111 of those had been returned as of Oct. 25. Of those, 28,696 were Democrats, 13,640 were Republicans and 5,775 have no party affiliation.

According to the Elections Project, 58.7 percent of Maryland's voters are registered Democrats while 26.0 are registered Republicans. Both numbers are down from the 2008 election, but the number of independents has increased from 12.1 percent in 2008 to 15.3 percent this year.

Ohio, however, is a different animal.

Considered by many election experts to be the new Florida, the Buckeye State could decide the 2012 presidential election. The state has experienced a barrage of campaigning from both President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney and their running mates. Secretary of State John Husted laid out the details in an Oct. 23 news release. According to him, 7.9 million people are registered to vote in Ohio and nearly 6.9 million absentee ballot applications were sent to Ohio voters over the course of two statewide mailings.

"Whether by mail or in person, Ohioans are turning out to vote," Husted said in the release. "Not only is the 2012 election running smoothly so far, but every voter has the same level of access thanks to work we've done to ensure uniformity in how Ohio's elections are run."

Ohio offers a county-by-county breakdown of absentee voting. As of Oct. 19, 618,861 absentee ballots were cast by mail, 5,176 military and overseas ballots were cast and 189,109 absentee ballots were cast in person.

Completed absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 5 or delivered in person to the county board of elections by the close of polls on Election Day.