By Vicki Smith
West Virginia voters began filling out ballots across the state Wednesday as early voting got under way for the Nov. 6 general election.
Early voting continues through 5 p.m. on Nov. 3, and the polls will be open on Saturdays to encourage turnout.
In 2008, more than 153,000 people cast early ballots for the general election. The Secretary of State’s Office says that was almost 22 percent of all votes cast, and it helped lift overall turnout to 58.7 percent.
Republicans Marlin Longenecker, 79, and his 84-year-old wife, June, voted in downtown Charleston because they’ll be on vacation the week of the election, visiting her son in Muskogee, Okla., and attending the West Virginia University football game at Oklahoma State.
Marlin Longenecker voted a straight Republican ticket, calling President Barack Obama “the worst one we’ve ever had.”
He also criticized U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democratic incumbent who last year called on Obama to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“I was a veteran,” Longenecker said. “And I wasn’t in favor of him saying he’s going to bring all the troops home, because we need defense in this country. We need to protect our country.”
In Morgantown, Ed and Lola Caldwell, both 78, wanted to avoid big election day crowds.
“The first day wasn’t the one to come because the lines were pretty long,” Lola Caldwell said as voters trickled in and out of the Mountaineer Mall election center. “But they moved pretty quickly.”
More important than the convenience, though, was the chance to make a statement on what Ed Caldwell calls “Romnesia,” embracing the term Obama coined to portray his opponent’s shifting positions on various issues.
Obama, who is perceived as being an enemy of the coal industry, is widely unpopular in West Virginia, and Ed Caldwell acknowledged he may be in the minority in still supporting him.
“At least he’s been fairly consistent,” he said. “He hasn’t changed his opinion every few days, and I think Romney has. I’m not sure what he’d be for next week.
“But,” he added, “that doesn’t seem to matter to some people.”
New voter registration totals show there are more than 1.2 million registered voters in the state, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 640,000 to 358,000, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. More than 222,000 people registered with no party affiliation.
Eleven counties have more Republicans registered than Democrats, up from 10. Putnam County is the latest to swing to the GOP, but by just three voters.
Of the state’s 10 largest counties, the GOP has a majority in three: Berkeley, Wood and Putnam.
Freshman Delegate Larry Kump, a Republican seeking re-election in Berkeley County, said he was first in line in Martinsburg, where a long line formed behind him.
“Elections matter,” he said, “and every vote really does count.”
Early voting has become increasingly popular in West Virginia. Though it’s now a shorter period than in the past, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant predicts another strong turnout this year.
Interest in the presidential race is high, but West Virginians are also choosing a governor and filling all three U.S. House seats and one of the two U.S. Senate seats, along with statewide races including Supreme Court and attorney general.
“Even though this is the seventh statewide election since May of 2010, I am confident that the people of West Virginia will go to the polls to help decide in which direction our state and nation will go,” Tennant said. “There can be no such thing as voter fatigue when the issues facing us are so important.”
Residents can check the early voting hours in their county on the Secretary of State’s website at www.wvsos.com .