Voter registration hits record level
HUNTINGTON-- West Virginia counties in the Tri-State have shared in the increase that has pushed voter registration in the state to a record level.
The number of registered voters eligible to cast ballots in the May 13 primary election have increased between 3 and 5 percent in Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mason and Putnam counties since the 2006 general election.
Statewide, more than 1.18 million voters are registered, a 4 percent increase from November 2006, according to the Secretary of State's office.
The record-high number of voters can be contributed to a number of factors, including the close battle between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination and the inclusion of unaffiliated voters in the Democratic primary election. Election officials also say they have made concerted efforts to get more people registered.
According to final registration numbers published by the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office, the Democratic and Republican parties have increased their bases. Since the 2006 general election, an additional 16,300 voters have registered as Democrats, bringing that party's total to 665,234.
Republicans have seen an increase of about 4,800 since the last election, bringing their total to 347,760.
While slight increases have been made in the Mountain Party and the "Other" category, the most significant increase since 2006 has occurred in the number of unaffiliated voters. An additional 22,644 voters have registered as independents.
The number of unaffiliated voters has reached an all-time high this year of 156,199, and independent voters are now 13.3 percent of total voters.
In Cabell County, voter registration increased most among Democratic and unaffiliated voters, growing 821 and 769, respectively. Republican registration is down 1 percent in the county.
Jason Williams, manager of the Secretary of State's Election Division, said part of the increase can be attributed to a number of improvements and additional programs implemented by the local county clerks and the Secretary of State's Office.
"We've been working very closely with the county clerks and holding informationals with the public. More than last election, we're trying to notify the public about early voting hours," Williams said. "We're always looking for new ways to increase voter turnout and registration."
Williams said the close race between Obama, D-Ill., and Clinton, D-N.Y., also has brought more attention to the state. More people, including unaffiliated voters, have signed up to help decide the race, he said.
County clerks in Wayne and Cabell counties went around their counties registering voters at a number of places, including high schools, retirement communities and senior citizen centers. The clerks said the registration drives netted hundreds of registered voters.
Holding public registration drives, such as the one at the Westmoreland Foodland, helped the county reach more people, said Wayne County Clerk Robert Pasley. New online registration and a number of voting options have also helped register more voters.
"People say 'I don't want to go out to Wayne to register.' So when you take registration out to them, it's more convenient for them," Pasley said. "As I go out to different places, I make sure to inform them about what types of voting are available to them."
While registration numbers are important, Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole said she is just as concerned that voters actually cast ballots.
"There are thousands of people who have been registered and have never voted," Cole said. "My main focus is getting people interested in the process and getting them out to vote. When we get people interested in voting, we'll see an increase in voter registration."
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