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Reporter’s notebook/It’s time to let the games begin

Start the countdown, folks. We’re just 50 days away from the Nov. 3, general elections. Labor Day traditionally marks the official start of campaign season, so expect to see your TVs and radio bombarded with ads, your mailboxes full of mailers, and your streets lined with signs.

According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, more than 58,995 registered voters requested absentee ballots as of last Thursday. Keep in mind, 262,503 voters requested absentee ballots for the June 9 primary, and only 224,777 voters actually cast their absentee ballots — nearly half of the 450,909 ballots.

So far, county clerks have verified and approved the applications for 46,152 voters as of last week, with absentee ballots being mailed out starting Friday. If you want to vote by mail-in absentee, you have until Wednesday, Oct. 28 to turn in your absentee ballot application.

Either go to your County Clerk’s Office and fill out a form or download and mail your county clerk a form from the Secretary of State’s Office. But why do any of that when you can go to GoVoteWV.com and fill out the application online? No need to download a form. No need to drop it in the mail. Just fill out the online application and it gets sent to your county clerk. No muss, no fuss.

Either way, don’t wait. Get your application sent in so you can get your absentee ballot ASAP. And don’t wait to turn your ballot in either. Much of the headlines you’re seeing about issues with the U.S. Postal Service are nonsense. If they can handle the volume holiday packages around Christmas, they can certainly handle the large number of absentee ballots. But why take the chance that something could get screwed up? Mail that ballot in pronto.

Also, if you need to update your voter registration or switch political parties, you have until Tuesday, Oct. 13, to do so. You can check that at GoVoteWV.com. Every election I hear of someone complaining they had to vote a provisional ballot because something wasn’t right with their registration. It’s almost always someone who moved within the county and didn’t update their address with their county clerk. Don’t wait to find out your information is wrong or out-of-date.

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Speaking of changing political parties, the margin between registered voters in the Democratic and Republican parties is closing.

According to August registration totals compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office, Democratic Party registration dropped from 38.63 percent of West Virginia’s 1.2 million registered voters as of the May 19 voter registration deadline for the June primary election to 35.16 percent as of the end of August. Republican Party registration over the same period rose from 34.67 percent in May to 35.16 percent.

The gap separating Democratic and Republican voter registration on May 19 was 4.1 percent. As of August, that gap is now at 2.8 percent. It’s a slow and steady gain for Republicans and another drop for Democrats. Keep in mind, the Democratic Party had 46.5 percent of the state’s voter registration going into the 2016 presidential election. The Republican Party had 30.1 percent.

Voter registration for those choosing “no party” or “other” as their voter registration also have benefited from the escape from the Democratic Party or simply from brand new registrations. As of May 19, there were 22.9 percent of voters choosing unaffiliated categories. As of August, that number increased to 26.1 percent.

We’ll obviously look at that number again after Oct. 13, but the trends don’t bode well for Democratic candidates in the state. Republicans already have a prime ballot position thanks to a stay of a lower federal court decision to call the state’s law laying out ballot position in favor of the party registration of the presidential candidate who received the most votes in the previous election unconstitutional (a law passed by state Democratic lawmakers 25 years ago).

I bet Republicans are cursing the day they passed a bill doing away with straight-ticket voting.

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Speaking of the down-ballot effect, Saboto’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics continues to put West Virginia in the dark red for President Donald Trump, meaning the state is a safe Republican pickup. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger, could sweep the electoral college and battleground states, but he will very likely not have West Virginia’s five electoral votes.

As of Aug. 5, Sabato’s Crystal Ball also places West Virginia in the deep red for the U.S. Senate, where Republican Shelley Moore Capito is seeking a second term and challenged by Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin, the same person who challenged U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin for the Democratic primary for Senate in 2018. And in their Sept. 3 report, they don’t even list any of West Virginia’s three congressional seats as at risk for flipping.

This might be the first election where Democratic candidates are truly the underdogs. A strong top of the ticket is going to have implications down the ballot. Democratic candidates are really going to have to work hard over the next 50 days to show voters that they’re not like the Democrats they see on TV from D.C.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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