Most counties report a slow first day of early voting

Gloomy, wet weather and a low number of contested races on the ballot added up to a slow first day of early voting around West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.

Primary election day in the Mountain State is May 13, but early voting at county courthouses around the state opened Wednesday. In all, about 340 voters in the state’s six northernmost counties cast ballots on the first day.

Marshall County led the way with 93 early voters casting ballots on Thursday. Wetzel County reported 81 early voters; Ohio County, 74; Hancock County, 38; and Brooke County, 31. In Tyler County, where voting was open for 12 hours instead of the usual eight, elections officials reported 26 ballots cast.

Despite the rain, 14 people cast ballots at the City-County Building in Wheeling within the first hour of polls opening. But as things wrapped up for the day, poll workers reported stretches of as long as a half-hour without anyone showing up to vote.

“I thought because of the weather it might be slow,” said Toni Chieffalo, elections coordinator for Ohio County. “In an off year, I don’t expect a large turnout, anyway.”

By comparison, the first day of early voting for 2012’s general election, which featured both a presidential and gubernatorial race, saw almost 1,400 people cast ballots.

Marilyn Mendelson of Wheeling was one of the first voters to cast a ballot this morning in Wheeling.

“I will be unable to vote on Election Day but I feel strongly that everybody should vote,” she said. “I wanted to put my voice in.”

In Brooke County – where races include a Democrat primary for a county commission seat and two renewal levies, one for fire service and another for other services such as libraries and senior programs – County Clerk Sylvia Benzo also reported a slower-than-normal first day.

“Usually the first day, we’re kind of busy,” Benzo said. “We really have just a couple of races that are contested. … Hopefully, it will pick up.”

But in Marshall County, election workers said things stayed pretty steady throughout the day.

Most of the suspense in this year’s midterm elections will be reserved for the general election in November.

Though there are primaries for both major parties in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., it’s widely considered a foregone conclusion that Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Charleston, will advance to November’s general election. West Virginia’s three House of Representatives seats all are up this year, but in the 1st District, neither Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, nor Democrat state Auditor Glen Gainer face a primary challenge.

In state Legislature races, only two Northern Panhandle House of Delegates districts feature primaries, where two Republicans and two Democrats each will emerge to compete in the general election. In the 3rd District, which covers most of Ohio County, there are four Republicans and three Democrats in the race, while the 4th District, which includes all of Marshall County and southern Ohio County, features a Democrat primary with three candidates hoping to advance.

At the county level, there are contested board of education races in Hancock, Ohio, Marshall and Tyler counties, and contested county commission races in Hancock, Brooke and Marshall counties. The winner of the Democrat primaries in the county commission races will be running unopposed in November, as no Republicans filed in any of those races. And board of education races are non-partisan, so the winners of the primary will take office.

In Ohio County, the Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority bus levy and a school levy each are up for renewal.

Early voting times throughout the area are as follows:

Brooke County – early voting hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day except Sunday;

Hancock County – voters can cast ballots between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. each weekday;

Ohio County – voting hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day except Sunday; and

Polls in all Mountain State counties also will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and on the last day for voting, May 10.

All county clerks’ offices are closed on Sundays.

(Fred Connors and Joselyn King contributed to this story.)