Hundreds cast their ballots early
ONA -- West Virginians began casting ballots Wednesday as the state's early voting period for this fall's general election kicked off.
For voters in eastern Cabell County, the process became a lot more convenient this year. The county's first satellite location for early voting opened Wednesday morning at the Cabell County Sheriff's Field Office in Ona, and dozens of people take advantage.
Several voters arrived early for the 8:30 a.m. start of the state's 13-day window for casting ballots early. Culloden resident John Van Nostrand was the first, saying he typically casts his ballot during the early voting period and was happy to save the hour it takes to drive to and from the Cabell County Courthouse in Huntington, -- the other location for early voting in Cabell County.
"For the eastern part of the county, it's a big deal," Van Nostrand said.
Approximately 780 Cabell County voters cast their ballots Wednesday, with 215 of them doing so at the new satellite office, said Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole.
Cole said she and her staff were eager to see whether or not voters would take advantage of the new location.
"It's very encouraging," Cole said. "It takes the same amount of work to prepare for any election, regardless of how many people actually come out and vote. Considering the extra work that went into preparing this new location, it's satisfying to know people are coming out and using the tools that are out there and exercising that right."
Statewide, early voting has taken on a bigger role in elections. 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.
In that same election, more than 7,000 voters cast early ballots in Cabell County, and another 1,000-plus cast absentee ballots. The county's new satellite voting location could help increase those numbers this year.
Having an office in the eastern part of the county makes sense, said Sheriff Tom McComas. He said the Ona office already serves as a full-service tax office and license renewal office, adding that a quarter of licenses are renewed and a significant amount gross taxes are collected there.
A detective was temporarily displaced and locks on several rooms were changed, with only the three election workers that will staff the office having keys, Cole said.
When a satellite location was approved by the county commissioners, Cole said there would be significant costs, aside from hiring additional election workers. She had anticipated purchasing four new electronic ballots at a cost of $3,500 each. But she decided to reduce the number used at the courthouse to eight and take the additional four to the satellite office. If early voting figures on Ona are strong enough to continue in years to come, she said she'll buy the additional equipment.
"We would like to see at least a 1,000 (use the satellite location)," Cole said.
Cole said there are 61,651 registered voters in the county for the general election, with more than 32,000 living outside the municipal precincts of Huntington.
Statewide, new voter registration totals show there are more than 1.2 million registered voters, 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.
Early voting continues on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Friday, Nov. 2; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on two Saturdays, Oct. 27, and Nov. 3. The satellite office is located at 2726 Howells Mill Road.
In addition, voters also should know that, in most cases, they don't need to bring any identification with them. They will be asked to state their name and address and sign the poll book before voting.
If it is a voter's first time casting a ballot after registering by mail to vote, he or she will need to bring a valid ID that shows current residence address, which could be a driver's license or other photo ID, government check, paycheck or any other document that shows name and current residence address.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.