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W.Va. reaches voter registration deadline

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia closed its voter rolls Tuesday for the Nov. 6 general election, with initial figures showing just over 3,600 absentee ballots cast and the ranks of unaffiliated voters continuing to swell.

With 1.23 million people already cleared to vote, in-person registration ended Tuesday while mailed applications had to be postmarked by that date. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, as West Virginia's election chief, expects a final voter tally within several days, spokesman Jake Glance said.

The secretary of state's website also allows voters to check their registration and look up their polling place.

Voting is already underway in West Virginia, with 51 of the state's 55 counties reporting 3,609 absentee ballots returned by Tuesday. Though Republicans account for less than 28 percent of the state's voters, they cast more than 38 percent of the absentee ballots. Just over half came from Democrats, who represent just over half of registered voters. One member of the Mountain Party -- which has ballot status in West Virginia -- had voted, in Morgan County.

Both major parties sought to increase their ranks before the deadline. GOP Executive Director Chad Holland said his party's strategy included targeting areas where voters routinely choose Republican presidential or congressional candidates but pick Democrats down-ballot.

"We look at legislative districts, even down to the precincts," Holland said, adding that "we're working to bring up those numbers as much as possible."

The Democrats focused some of its registration efforts on college campuses, said party Executive Director Derek Scarbro.

"We've been pretty aggressive about that in recent weeks," Scarbro said.

Scarbro said county party committees have set up registration tables at fairs and festivals, while the state party has opened 32 offices around West Virginia. Republicans have such offices as well.

Democrats continue to outnumber Republicans by close to a 2-to-1 ratio, but their share of voters overall has declined over the last 20 years. Nearly two-thirds of West Virginia voters were registered Democrats in 1992, compared to nearly 52 percent as of Oct. 2.

The overall number of voters has increased since then, from 956,000. The Democrats' ranks climbed just beyond 680,000 in 2004, but have dropped by more than 37,400 since the last presidential election in 2008. Republicans gained just 1,156 voters during that time. The real increase, since both 2008 and 1992, has been among independent and unaffiliated voters.

Nearly 1 in 5 voters, about 242,000, belonged to neither major party when October began. West Virginia had just 37,083 voters in the "other" category 20 years ago, or less than 4 percent of the total.

West Virginia offers in-person early voting from Oct. 24 until Nov. 3. That early voting period includes two Saturdays.


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