The Voice of West Virginia
Democratic Party registration in West Virginia remains in swift decline. Consider these party registration numbers just released by the Secretary of State’s Office.
There are 474,961 registered Democrats in West Virginia. That makes up 38.6 percent of the 1,229,520 total number of registered voters. The Democratic party still has the most registered voters.
However, their numbers have been dropping rapidly. Ten years ago, West Virginia had nearly 657,000 Democrats. So, the number of Democrats has declined by 182,000, or 27 percent, just in the last decade.
The drop is even more stunning considering what has happened since the party’s peak years. In 1994, two out of every three voters in the state were Democrats (65 percent). At the time, top of the ticket Democrats dominated.
Senator Robert Byrd was re-elected with 69 percent of the vote. Sitting Democratic members of Congress Alan Mollohan, Bob Wise and Nick Rahall all won re-election by overwhelming majorities.
Governor Gaston Caperton was in the middle of his second term after winning re-election two years earlier with 56 percent of the vote. Also in 1992 Democrats won every position on the Board of Public Works and Democrat State Supreme Court Justice Tom McHugh won re-election unopposed.
But in recent years Republicans have made historic gains.
Republican Party registration has been on the rise. In 2000, there were 310,000 Republicans in the state, equating to 29 percent of the electorate. There are now 425,008 registered Republicans, making up 34.6 percent of all voters. So in the last two decades the number of Republicans has increased by 37 percent.
Republicans now hold one of two U.S. Senate seats, all three congressional seats, the offices of Governor (Jim Justice was elected as a Democrat, but then switched parties), Secretary of State, Auditor and Attorney General. Republicans are also the majority party in both chambers of the Legislature.
Part of the dramatic shift can be attributed to Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office working with county clerks to clean up voter registration rolls. But there has also been a significant philosophical shift.
As the national Democratic Party has become more progressive on issues like the environment and immigration, it has lost the support of moderate to conservative West Virginia Democrats. Also, President Donald Trump’s popularity—he won West Virginia in 2016 with 69 percent of the vote—has drawn more voters to the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, a growing number of West Virginians are registering to vote with no party affiliation. A record 281,587 West Virginians, or 23 percent, are now independent voters, which allows them to choose in a Primary Election whether to vote a Democratic or Republican ballot.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, is facing two Republican challengers in his quest for a third term in office.
Carmichael, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, and teacher Amy Nichole Grady want the opportunity to represent Senate District 4, which includes Mason and Jackson counties as well as portions of Roane and Putnam counties.
“There’s always discussion about someone who thinks they can do something better or whatever,” Carmichael said recently on MetroNews “Talkline.”
“I’m very happy to run on the accomplishments we have able to achieve over the last several years as Senate president.”
Butler, who began serving in the House of Delegates in 2013, is running as the more conservative alternative to Carmichael. He has criticized the Senate leader for the legislative agenda set over the past three years.
“I think we’ve gone down the road several ways trying to solve our economic problems by increasing spending. We’ve passed budgets that have been higher than at any time in the history of the state. We’ve done several tax-increase plans. We’ve had social agendas that have not been helpful to people,” he said.
“What I want to focus on is making the individual lives of West Virginians better by encouraging work, by allowing people to keep more of what they earn, you know, demonstrating to them that work is worthwhile so that we can just do better in the state than what we’re doing now.”
Grady ran in the general election in 2018, finishing third behind winner Eric Tarr and Brian Prim. Grady ran as an independent two years ago as part of a last-minute bid following the statewide teachers’ strike.
“I ran on pure passion,” the Leon Elementary School teacher said. “We’re constantly talking about we need change. I’m the type of person that just wants to do it myself instead of waiting on somebody else to do it.”
Grady said while she agreed with the 2018 strike, the 2019 work stoppage went too far.
“The strike was all over the omnibus bill, as they called it, and I wasn’t completely opposed to everything in that bill. It just wasn’t something I felt we didn’t need to completely walk out on,” she said.
Legislators passed a sweeping bill which included pay raises for teachers and school service personnel as well as guidelines for establishing charter schools.
“I’m not against charter schools, and I know a lot of teachers who aren’t against charter schools,” Grady said. “What we are against is just implementing charter schools without actually doing the research that it requires to make sure that it’s successful.”
Carmichael understands educators and related groups may dislike him because of the efforts to pass the education bills in 2018 and 2019, but he stands by his record.
“Look back over the years when this thing was controlled by the Democrat Party. Teachers almost got no raises. Almost zero raises,” he said of the Legislature.
“I’m Senate president, and we propose pay increases that didn’t automatically meet the demands of the teacher unions initially, but in both years of the teacher strike, we passed the largest pay raises in state history for education, for our teachers and school service personnel, and did it without raising taxes on any West Virginian.”
Carmichael also noted his push for increasing community and technical college opportunities.
Butler has expressed issues with Carmichael’s actions, noting increased spending.
“In a lot of ways, we’ve passed the Democrat agenda. I think we need to get back to the conservative values that are better for the people of the state,” he said.
Butler listed multiple spending items he opposes, including the West Virginia Invests Grant Program for community and technical college opportunities and subsidies for greyhound racing
“I know it’s not easy to cut the size of government, but we should at least be holding a line and letting the economy catch up to us rather than continually increasing the spending year after year,” he said on “Talkline.”
Carmichael said he disagrees with the assessment he is not the most conservative candidate in the primary.
“We’ve done so many conservative things over the past few years,” he said. “I’m 100% pro-life, and I’m endorsed by West Virginians for Life. I’m 100% pro-2nd Amendment, and I’ve been endorsed by the NRA Political Victory Fund. I’ve done so many things that identify me as a very conservative leader of the Republican Party.”
As for Grady, she is touting the support of the state AFL-CIO chapter.
“Many, many of the voters in District 4 are union members. Many are Republican union members. And they have reached out to me and said they don’t feel like they’re being listened to because they’re feeling like they’re just following along with whatever the party says,” she said. “That’s OK to a point, but you’ve got to listen to the voters.”
Bruce Ashworth is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. The West Virginia AFL-CIO has endorsed his primary bid.
The post Butler, Grady look to defeat Carmichael in District 4 primary appeared first on WV MetroNews.
UPDATE 5 p.m. Sunday 5/31 The DHHR reported 8 additional confirmed cases bringing the total since early March to 2,010. There were no additional deaths reported Sunday.
.@WV_DHHR reports as of 5:00 p.m., on May 31, 2020, there have been 97,622 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 2,010 total cases and 75 deaths. #SaferAtHomeWVhttps://t.co/18qZl4CJzG pic.twitter.com/uIvd9ONuA7
— WV DHHR (@WV_DHHR) May 31, 2020
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has surpassed 2,000 positive COVID-19 cases.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) reported 2,002 total positive cases, up 13 from Saturday, in its Sunday morning report.
The DHHR added 1,018 tests from Saturday evening to Sunday morning, totaling 97,387 done statewide.
No additional deaths were reported.
Cases per county (Case confirmed by lab test/Probable case): Barbour (9/0), Berkeley (296/11), Boone (9/0), Braxton (2/0), Brooke (4/1), Cabell (62/2), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (4/0), Fayette (48/0), Gilmer (10/0), Grant (11/1), Greenbrier (9/0), Hampshire (28/0), Hancock (16/2), Hardy (39/0), Harrison (40/1), Jackson (137/0), Jefferson (175/5), Kanawha (226/2), Lewis (8/0), Lincoln (6/0), Logan (17/0), Marion (50/1), Marshall (30/0), Mason (15/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (13/0), Mineral (44/2), Mingo (5/1), Monongalia (122/11), Monroe (6/1), Morgan (17/1), Nicholas (8/0), Ohio (42/0), Pendleton (10/2), Pleasants (3/1), Pocahontas (20/1), Preston (20/5), Putnam (35/0), Raleigh (15/1), Randolph (131/0), Ritchie (1/0), Roane (9/0), Summers (1/0), Taylor (8/0), Tucker (4/0), Tyler (3/0), Upshur (6/1), Wayne (99/0), Wetzel (8/0), Wirt (4/0), Wood (50/3), Wyoming (3/0).
.@WV_DHHR reports as of 10:00 a.m., on May 31, 2020, there have been 97,387 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 2,002 total cases and 75 deaths. #SaferAtHomeWVhttps://t.co/2t26KHTEla pic.twitter.com/hSldzkkNOh
— WV DHHR (@WV_DHHR) May 31, 2020
ROANOKE, W.Va. – Members of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission rejected three controversial proposals during Sunday’s meeting at Stonewall Resort in Lewis County.
The commission rejected a proposal which would have done away with bear hunting with dogs west of Route 92 and Route 7 in Preston County. The West Virginia Bear Hunters Association opposed the regulation.
Colin Carpenter, Bear Project Leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources told commissioners the proposal was born out of complaints about bear hunters and hounds crossing private property in the area. However, he added Preston County is one of the counties where bear population control is an issue.
“We average 21 bear complaints a year in Preston County in the last 5 years—13 were for bear damage. The bulk of bear damage complaints in the county come from corn destruction in the eastern part of the county,” Carpenter said.
Commissioner Greg Burnett commented he worried the change could set a dangerous precedent. Commissioner Jeff Bowers was concerned about the bear damage, but also wanted to convey the Commission’s concern for landowners. The measure failed on a voice vote.
Commissioners amended the proposal and allowed for bear hunting with dogs throughout Preston County for the 2020 bear hunting season.
A second controversial topic which failed Sunday dealt with a change to youth hunting in Logan, Mingo, McDowell, and Wyoming Counties. The proposal would have allowed those age 14 and under to use a crossbow during the hunting season. Crossbows presently are allowed only for physically challenged hunters with a Class Y permit in the four bow-hunting only counties.
“I’ve gotten a lot of push back from the public on this,” DNR Director Steve McDaniel told the Commission. “People don’t have a problem with an antlerless season—but they do not want to create a crossbow season—even for children.”
Larry Lawson, Past President of the West Virginia Bowhunters Association spoke firmly against the proposal in his submitted public comments to the commission.
Commissioner Kenny Wilson questioned whether the change was even allowed since the Class Y permits which are the only allowable cross bow hunting in the southern counties was originally put into state code. Wildlife Chief Paul Johansen suggested commissioners defeat the measure and it could be reevaluated for 2021.
Ultimately, the measure failed.
The third proposed change to the game laws which proved controversial, and also failed, was a proposal to allow year-round coyote hunting with an artificial light. The proposal included a requirement that September 1 through December 31, night hunting would be allowed only on private land and require a hunter to receive landowner permission and notify DNR Law Enforcement Section prior to hunting.
Commissioners raised a myriad of concerns about the potential for problems.
“I just see a lot of vagueness here,” said Commissioner Bowers.
“This is a political issue. People don’t like coyotes, they notify legislators and they are responsive to constituents. Is this going to have a significant biological impact? No, probably very limited,” said Johansen
Commissioners worried about the effort to inform law enforcement and conveying the information to other law enforcement agencies and county 9-1-1 operators.
“We probably need to come up with a system to notify 911 the activity is happening. If a lot of people decided to do it, it could become a problem,” said Colonel Jerry Jenkins head of the Natural Resources Police.
The biggest concern was the potential for poaching during deer season and making the job for Natural Resources Police Officers even more difficult.
“There are limitations for night hunting because of law enforcement concerns. We’re talking about moving to a part of the year that could be problematic,” said Johansen.
The measure failed for a lack of a motion.
Other notes from Sunday’s meeting:
Turkey hunters will get eight additional hunting days at the end of the 2021 season. The commission approved adding a 5th week and ending the season on Sunday. Commissioner Bowers attempted to amend the measure to allow daylong hunting during week five. His amendment was defeated on a 5-2 roll call vote. Bowers and Commissioner Burnett both favored the change. Biologists cautioned the commission to tread carefully on extending any part of the turkey season to a daylong hunt.
A youth bear season for hunters ages 8 to less than 18 was approved. The two day season will coincide with the youth antlerless season
The buck firearms and antlerless deer seasons were approved to be extended to end on second Sunday after Thanksgiving. Commissioners approved a similar extension for the fall turkey season.
Commissioners heard a detailed presentation from Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates. He laid out the results of a comprehensive survey of sportsmen in West Virginia on various considerations for a restructuring of hunting and fishing license in the state. Commissioners and DNR staff adamantly stressed there is currently no consideration being given to a license increase and the study was to help with future modifications.
Acting State Parks Chief Brad Reed announced plans for controlled deer hunts on six State Parks in West Virginia. The hunts will be archery and muzzleloader hunts at Beech Fork, Canaan Valley, Cacapon, North Bend, Pipestem, and Twin Falls State Parks. Since Twin Falls is in Wyoming County, an archery hunting only county, it would not include muzzleloaders and only Class Y license holders would be allowed to hunt in the Twin Falls hunt with a crossbow.
McDaniel told the meeting he had received overwhelming response from the public comments about the proposal to lower the buck limit in West Virginia. He said to allow for all comments to be considered, the controversial measure was pulled from the agenda of Sunday’s meeting and the comment period extended to July 24th. McDaniel told the meeting the measure will be up for a vote at the August 2nd meeting which will be held at Chief Logan State Park.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” “George Floyd,” and “I Can’t Breathe” echoed through downtown Charleston on Sunday.
Hundreds of people gathered for peaceful protesting of social injustice, police brutality and the death of George Floyd outside of Charleston City Hall and the Charleston Police Department.
Floyd’s death, under police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been protested all over the country in recent days. The police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck has been charged with murder.
“We are better than this. The man called for his mother,” an African-American woman said on the steps of City Hall of Floyd’s death.
“He wasn’t an alien, he was a person. How do you think his mother feels? How do you think his family feels?”
She spoke those words alongside dozens of African-American women and was just one of many that took to speak and express emotions.
An African-American father from Dunbar spoke on behalf of his family and how he is scared to go out and do normal activities.
“I can’t go out here and do things I normally want to do. I’m afraid that if I say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing that I will have police on me. You just never know what is going to happen,” he said.
“I am scared for my children, I am scared for my brothers, I am scared for my sisters, my nieces and nephews. I am shaking right now.”
The crowd of a few hundred consisted of all ethnicities, gender and ages.
A woman identified as Cassidy, a white female from Boone County told MetroNews white people have privilege and need to speak up on injustices towards the African-American community.
“I’m a white person. I have privilege and it would be selfish of me to not speak on this because I can. If I can, why shouldn’t I,” she said.
A white female protestor with her agreed.
“I just think that anybody with privilege in times of oppression, not to do something about it is just a gross, selfish misuse of their privilege,” she said to MetroNews.
“Solidarity is everything. If enough people try to raise their voice, eventually somebody is going to be heard.”
Charleston’s protest joins the list of other peaceful protests in the Mountain State including two protests in Huntington, one at Ritter Park and a second one at Pullman Square, Morgantown on WVU’s downtown campus, and through the streets of Fairmont.
The protest at City Hall came hours after violent protests broke out in dozens of cities across the country Saturday night.
The group in Charleston marched through the streets of downtown with no issues, along Virginia, Court, Laidley, and Lee streets.
Sights and signs from the protest in Charleston, WV : pic.twitter.com/KuYYlZcMI7
— Jake Flatley (@JakeFlatley) May 31, 2020
Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt released a statement on Sunday evening on the protests: “The unfortunate death of George Floyd was due to an officer’s poor tactics and decision making. The officer was obviously in the wrong and I pray that none of our officers ever think the actions in this scenario were acceptable.
“I have made it clear to my officers that we, the Charleston Police Department, are not that guy. I urge each officer to show our community that our primary goals are to protect life and property.”
Amy Shuler Goodwin, the Mayor of Charleston, released a statement on Sunday as well: “I appreciate those who made their voices heard today and kept today’s protest outside of City Hall peaceful. We, as a nation, need to do more listening, especially in these uncertain times. I look forward to keeping the lines of communication open and helping to navigate our City through this unspeakable tragedy.”
The post Peaceful protests over death of George Floyd, social injustice crowd Charleston streets appeared first on WV MetroNews.
The third seat up for election for West Virginia’s Supreme Court this year is a remaining strand from a court crisis two years ago.
The seat represents the four years remaining on the term of former Justice Allen Loughry, who was impeached, resigned and convicted of federal fraud charges.
One of the candidates for the Division 3 term was so disgusted by the court two years ago that he ran for one of the seats vacated by justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis, who also resigned.
“The first time I ran, I was upset, I guess as everybody was with the disrespect for taxpayer dollars,” lawyer William Schwartz said last week.
Now Schwartz is running again.
“The reason I came back was, I didn’t feel my job was finished as far as making my statement and what I hope was a positive change for our court,” Schwartz said last week.
Another candidate, John Hutchison, is a longtime circuit judge who was appointed to serve in the vacated seat. Hutchison has served as an appointee for the past 18 months, but the position goes to the voters now that the election cycle has arrived.
“I, along with the folks I have been working with the last 18 months, have been working diligently to get the message out that we’re a different court now,” Hutchison said.
“We’re new, we understand the mistakes made by our predecessors and we’re not going to make them.”
Another candidate, Lora Dyer, also says she wants to help solidify public confidence in the Supreme Court. Dyer is a judge who currently presides in a circuit that includes Jackson, Calhoun, Mason and Roane counties.
“In light of all the very horrible things that happened to the court, people are paying closer attention than what they might have been,” Dyer said.
With three Supreme Court seats on ballots, Dyer said she opted to run for this one because the incumbent is an appointee.
“It was just the people haven’t picked somebody yet. And I’d like for them to pick me,” she said.
Dyer was elected as a circuit judge in the area surrounding Ripley in 2016. Before she was elected to that role, Dyer was one of the top lawyers in the state Auditor’s office.
That experience, she said, gave her an overview of the ins and outs of state government.
Like most circuit judges, Dyer sees a lot of family issues, including cases involving the abuse and neglect of children. She wants to make that a continued focus if she is elected to the Supreme Court.
“The most rewarding thing is when families come in to that environment in abuse and neglect and they’re able to resolve that issue. Every child I’ve ever sat and talked to loves their parents,” Dyer said.
Much of the Supreme Court’s workload also involves the appeals of family disputes. Those aren’t often the cases that draw public attention or news coverage, but Dyer reminds herself how important they are to the participants. She keeps a sticky note behind the bench that says “this is the most important case you’re going to hear today.”
“For every party coming into the court, it is,” she said.
Schwartz is a longtime Charleston trial lawyer and business owner. He says those experiences give him unique perspective as a candidate.
“Some people when they spend an entire career on taxpayer dollars and everyone calls you ‘your honor’ and you’re wearing a black rob, that may cause you to lose perspective. So maybe this time, we pick a taxpayer,” Schwartz said.
“I’m also a businessman. I pay quarterly taxes. Maybe we need a taxpayer among the robes. I think I bring a unique perspective to the court that doesn’t exist right now.”
Schwartz says he wants to assure resources are aimed toward the opioid crisis, family court judges and circuit court judges.
“I believe our resources have to be focused on the front line. That’s where I would focus my energy. Certainly the last on any list would be whatever my carpet is or my couch is,” he said, making reference to Loughry’s spending scandal.
Schwartz was not only upset by the misspending allegations that rocked the court in 2018 but also the way impeachment was handled in the House of Delegates.
The third part of that process, the appointments of three justices by Gov. Jim Justice, also troubled him.
“I’ve got nothing personal against any of these justices. I don’t think they’re bad people. I didn’t like the process. Justice Hutchison is part of that process,” Schwartz said.
“The governor can appoint his friends if he wants to. It’s just that Justice Hutchison is part of that process. He deserves to try to win. I deserve to try to win too.”
Hutchison has spent 25 years as a judge, first appointed to the bench in Raleigh County in 1995, winning election to the seat the following year and then serving in that role until 2018 when he was vetted and then appointed by Justice, a Raleigh County native.
“May 20 was the 40th anniversary of when I stood before the court and swore to be a good lawyer. I’ve got an extensive career in the legal system, both as a practicing lawyer and as a judge and now as a Supreme Court justice,” he said this past week.
When he was being considered for the Supreme Court, Hutchison worked on an estimate of how many cases he had overseen as a circuit judge and came up with 22,500, about 900 a year.
Now, he says, he has a good start on the workings of the Supreme Court.
“I’ve been on the Supreme Court bench now for 18 months, and I have an excellent idea of how the court works. I have an idea of the problems we’ve been working through,” he said.
Part of that has been regaining the trust and calm of the broader West Virginia judiciary.
“During that period of time, it was kind of like a turtle. Everybody’s head got down in their shell. They didn’t want to get out front,” he said.
The current version of the Supreme Court is trying now to make progress on a long-conceived electronic filing system for cases around the state, expanding drug treatment courts and embracing family treatment courts while continuing to prove the court system’s fiscal house is in order.
“We needed to get settled down, have a five-member court and start concentrating on dong the work of the court,” Hutchison said. “I’m happy to say I believe that has happened. We’re not dealing with political issues. We’re trying to deal with the issues before the court.”
Right to work
The most controversial issue to hit during Hutchison’s relatively brief time on the court has been a state law that made West Virginia a right to work state.
West Virginia’s labor unions contended the law constituted an illegal taking by employees who would benefit from union representation without paying for it.
The case wound its way to the Supreme Court at the start of this year. A few weeks ago, justices upheld the law with Hutchison issuing a concurring opinion, which meant that he agreed with the basic ruling but had more that he wanted to say.
Hutchison described his admiration for how the labor movement has shaped workplaces, but concluded he could not diverge from the majority’s legal conclusion.
“No other court in America has found a right-to-work legislative enactment unconstitutional, and the majority opinion has done nothing different,” Hutchison wrote.
That resulted in a major political complication.
Hutchison had already been endorsed by a range of groups, including political action committees of the Chamber of Commerce, representing business, and the AFL-CIO, representing labor unions.
Within a day, the AFL-CIO and other labor unions rescinded their endorsements.
This week, Hutchison said he knew the political risk but his role as a justice meant he had to set that aside.
“I made a pledge when I took my oath to uphold the constitution of the state of West Virginia. That oath requires me to make decisions and not prejudge cases and not judge cases based on partisan or political considerations,” Hutchison said.
“It came up politically. It came up at a bad time for me.”
The easier political path, he said, would have been deciding the issue the other way. But he concluded that he couldn’t issue a ruling out of political expediency because that conclusion wouldn’t reflect the law.
“I can’t do that and uphold my oath to administer the law of the state of West Virginia,” he said. “I have to remain as independent as I possibly can and make my decision based solely on the law of the constitution and the state of West Virginia. If, in doing that, adverse things happen from a political viewpoint they just have to happen.”
Schwartz said he would also have to rule according to what the law says, even if that would differ with his personal view.
“I believe Justice Hutchison had a legal basis to rule as he did. It is not an irrational ruling he made. I think he carefully drafted his opinion to say how important the unions are, but he had to rule against them. As a lawyer, I have to respect that position,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said he sympathizes with the union position and would not have supported right to work if he were, instead, running for a legislative seat.
“As a judge, I fully understand how he came to the decision he did. I know it was a hard call for him,” Schwartz said. “Sometime in the future, the union may very well bring a different approach. I can’t predict how I would rule.”
Dyer didn’t directly address the ruling, but instead told a story about how her view of a judge’s role was shaped.
She was working for then-Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky while he was overseeing a case about the legality of the City of Charleston’s controversial user fee that is charged to people who work in the city whether they live there or not.
Dyer said the judge told her, “You know, this job comes down to that. You’re having to make really important decisions that affect different people. If you have any trepidation about doing that and applying the law, you have no business being a judge.’
“That would be my statement on that sort of thing.”
Election Day is June 9. Early voting in person started May 27 and goes until June 6. Expanded absentee balloting is also taking place in West Virginia this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The post Lawyer, judge and justice vie for the four years left on former Justice Loughry’s term appeared first on WV MetroNews.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two different elections at the same time are what several county clerks across West Virginia tell MetroNews they feel like they are overseeing with just more than a week to go until the Mountain State’s June 9th Election Day.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Linda Huggins, county clerk in Preston County. “It is something that it’s just unreal. Everybody in the office feels it.”
In-person early voting continues through this coming Saturday for the primary and nonpartisan judicial and other elections.
That’s happening while an abnormally large number of absentee ballots, available to all state registered voters because of the coronavirus pandemic which delayed Election Day from the original May 12th date, are being distributed, returned and processed.
As of last Thursday, numbers from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office showed 255,199 absentee ballots had been requested in the 55 counties accounting for nearly 21 percent of all registered voters.
A total of 155,923 absentee ballots or more than 12 percent had been returned to county clerk offices.
Absentee ballot update: 99% of absentee ballots requested have been sent to voters. As of COB May 28:
Requests received: 255,199 or 20.8% of registered voters
Ballots sent: 252,501 or 20.6% of registered voters
Ballots cast: 155,923 or 12.7% of registered voters pic.twitter.com/q9nXgDSARS
— WV Secretary of State (@wvsosoffice) May 29, 2020
“It’s crazy,” said Mark Rhodes, county clerk in Wood County. “Everything is just so different right now and elections is one of them.”
In Wood County, the five locations currently being used for early voting were supposed to be the five locations also open on the June 9th Primary Day for all voters no matter where they lived in Wood County.
Another plan, though, was being developed over the weekend after the Secretary of State’s Office said that was not allowed. Designated polling sites for precincts were needed instead.
Typically, Wood County operates 68 precincts on Election Day.
This year, Rhodes anticipated a lower in-person demand since more than 10,000 absentee ballots were requested in Wood County.
“Normally, we only send out, maybe, 400 absentee ballots so that’s come into consideration when it comes to how many people may show up for early voting and Election Day,” he said.
Fewer polling places, he said, would also require fewer pollworkers.
In the 2016 Presidential Primary, 15,968 total people voted in Putnam County.
This year’s absentee ballot requests alone in that county were up above 9,000.
Brian Wood, the county clerk in Putnam County, said — in many ways — clerks statewide were “running down two roads.”
Preston County typically sees requests for about 160 absentee ballots during a normal election.
As of last week, the county had received more than 5,000 requests.
“Our office is a smaller office compared to maybe other counties and we don’t have just an elections department or voter registration department. We all do it,” Huggins said.
“We used to run the office with one absentee ballot clerk and, right now, all ten of us, including myself, are sitting here and processing them.”
The absentee ballot number was more than five times higher in Kanawha County, West Virginia’s largest county, where, early on in the process, some requested ballot mailings were delayed for different reasons.
“Speed’s not our goal. Accuracy is,” said Vera McCormick, county clerk in Kanawha County, of the absentee ballot distribution process.
Since initial ballot mailings, some voters have decided to vote in person, either during early voting or on Election Day.
McCormick was asking for returns of unwanted absentee ballots for official “spoiling” in Kanawha County and the removal of recorded requests for absentee ballots to help keep polling lines moving next Tuesday.
In Wood County, “What we’re actually telling people is to take that absentee ballot to the polls when you go to vote because, if they walk in, it’s going to say that they’ve requested a ballot,” Rhodes said.
“They would have to vote a provisional ballot and then we would have to wait to see if the absentee (ballot) came back before the in-person vote could count.”
That would mean the Election Day ballot would most likely not be counted until the election canvass the following week, not on Election Night.
Requests for absentee ballots must be physically in at county clerk offices by this Wednesday, June 3rd.
Absentee ballots have to be postmarked by Tuesday, June 9th to be counted.
Only ballots arriving at county clerk offices before or on that Tuesday will be included in Election Night counts. The others will be added during canvasses.
Tracking of absentee ballots was available HERE.
For in-person voting, social distancing was part of plans for polls.
Pollworkers were going to have access to personal protective equipment, some of it from the Secretary of State’s Office, like gloves, masks and face shields during early voting and on Election Day.
In Preston County, “We have hand sanitizer supplied. We have cleaning supplies. We are voting on our voting equipment with Q-tips so we don’t have hundreds of different fingers and germs all over our voting equipment,” Huggins said.
Use of personal protective equipment among pollworkers was not mandated in Putnam County, but it was an option, said Wood.
“Without them, we couldn’t have in-person voting and we don’t have a whole lot of people beating down our doors to be a pollworker this go around,” he said.
When MetroNews spoke with Wood, Rhodes and Huggins, they all indicated they had the pollworkers they needed at that point, but were recruiting potential alternates for Election Day.
Voters were to see increased sanitation, spacing and other measures.
“This is the hardest election that we’ve had to deal with,” said Rhodes who has worked in the Wood County Clerk’s Office since 2005, taking over as clerk beginning in 2013.
Wood, out of Putnam County, has 18 years of election experience.
“This is all new. Every county is dealing with it. We’re making lemonade out of lemons,” he said. “We rise to the occasion. We really faced the challenges and are doing well for the circumstances.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Mylan Park Aquatic Center will open June 1 with CDC guidelines. Additionally, guests are asked to agree to a “social contract” that details expected behavior.
Director of Aquatics and track, Jennifer Lainhart says the agreement includes not entering the facility if you are sick, wearing a face covering, practice proper hygiene, clean equipment that you use with disinfectant provided and practice social distancing.
“In the pool, the CDC has recommended people do not wear face coverings because it could limit breathing,” Lainhart said. “So, it’s maintaining social distancing in the pool, but throughout our facilities, we will be requiring a cloth face covering or a mask.”
Building staff will be required to monitor capacity, and that could create inconvenience for some guests.
“One of the things people may experience is waiting to get it if there are a lot of people trying to get in during a certain time or day,” Lainhart said.
This will also be the first year for the splash pad on the recreation side of the aquatic center.
As guidelines are loosened and crowd sizes can increase more events are expected to return to the park. But, now small birthday parties or gatherings can be scheduled at the facility.
Now, batting cages can be rented with 48-hours advance notice and members can access the Fitness Center. In the coming weeks, more announcements are expected regarding low-contact sports.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A juvenile has been taken into custody and charged for the shooting death of a teenager in Huntington.
Huntington PD said a juvenile was arrested on Friday in connection with the death of Tayla Johnson, 16, of Huntington.
Johnson died of a single gunshot wound on May 20 in the 1000 block of 22nd Street. The juvenile was arraigned Friday and taken to a detention center, police said.
Authorities said related to this investigation, a search warrant was executed at 920 ½ 23rd St. on Friday. During the execution of the search warrant, the following arrests were made:
– Kelly Ingels, 45, of Huntington. Ingles was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, selling a firearm to a juvenile, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
– Freda Ingels, 40, of Huntington. Ingles was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia National Guard and other state organizations are getting innovative when at the forefront of the COVID-19 response efforts.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) helped introduce additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) being made in West Virginia at a recent press briefing to assist first responders and medical professionals, and to assist with increased testing capabilities.
Hoyer said the PPE that the WVNG and state organizations have worked on include innovative ventilator systems, 3D-printed testing swabs, reusable medical gowns, protective masks, and Hydrogen Peroxide disinfecting systems.
“The governor has tasked us to build up a six-month reserve of PPE so we as a state if we experience a further wave of this going forward later in the winter or early spring, we will have the appropriate six months supply of PPE,” Hoyer said at a recent briefing.
Azimuth, Inc. of Morgantown teamed with West Virginia University (WVU) Medical Center and the WVNG to create new styles of ventilators to aid in patient respiration. According to Justice’s office, the system design and fabrication were accomplished using Azimuth’s in-house engineering capabilities while only sourcing a few custom components from vendors.
“This particular device is now being looked at by the military and particularly special operations and emergency response community in the military to be used as field-expedient ventilators going forward,” Hoyer said of the ventilators.
The 3D printing of swabs for testing kits and additional PPE was led by the Innovation Hub, housed in the WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and Formlabs, a 3D-printing technology developer and manufacturer based in Somerville, Massachusetts.
WVU and WVU Hospitals are now able to produce up to 10,000 swabs per week.
DuPont donated material to West Virginia Correctional Industries to enlist inmate workers to take the raw material and create the reusable medical gowns in their facilities, a release said.
Hoyer was excited to roll out the “West Virginia Mask” while utilizing 3D printing. The governor’s office said the mask itself is a soft, form-fitting unit that will mold itself to a wearer’s face with the benefit of a removable filtration system.
“This will be the equivalent of an N-95 mask or higher. We will be able to make those in the state of West Virginia and control our own supply of masks,” Hoyer said.
Aerosolized Hydrogen Peroxide systems are used in hospitals and medical facilities to disinfect and sanitize metal and nonmetal medical devices such as surgery tools, a release said.
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