CHARLESTON — West Virginia is on pace to have its highest voter turnout on record.
As of Wednesday, the unofficial numbers showed 793,088 people voted in the 2020 general election, about 62.5% of the more than 1.2 million registered voters in the state, according to data provided by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday.
Those 793,088 votes won’t be the final vote total, as mailed-in absentee ballots and provisional ballots have yet to be counted.
Those votes will be counted beginning Monday, Nov. 9, when county commissioners, acting as boards of canvassers, will begin to canvass the election by reviewing and counting outstanding absentee votes and considering if provisional ballots were cast within the scope of West Virginia’s election laws.
The number of provisional ballots varies from county to county and aren’t officially recorded until canvassing takes place, said Mike Queen, director of communications for the Secretary of State’s Office.
HD Media asked the Secretary of State’s Office for information about the last time West Virginia set a record for voter turnout, but no representative from the office responded to the request Thursday.
Voter turnout data dating to 2008 is available on the secretary of state’s website, and the 2020 general election has higher voter turnout than those elections listed on the website. The highest turnout from those available data was in 2008, when the turnout rate was 57.9% and West Virginians cast 702,109 ballots.
Of the 793,088 votes recorded this election cycle, just less than half of them were cast on Election Day. The 394,769 ballots from Election Day that had been counted so far account for 49.7% of the total ballots cast. Another 255,406 ballots, or 32.2% of the vote total so far, were cast during the 10-day early-voting period in West Virginia, which took place from Oct. 21-31.
So far, 142,913 absentee ballots have been returned to county clerks and reported to the Secretary of State’s Office, accounting for 18% of the ballots cast so far.
West Virginians requested 153,773 absentee ballots for the 2020 general election, according to the website.
Correlating to population, Berkeley, Kanawha and Monongalia counties had the highest voter turnout. U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2019 show those counties as having the highest estimated populations, with Kanawha being the most-populous county with an estimated 178,124 residents.
A total of 82,767 Kanawha County voters cast ballots this election cycle, according to the secretary of state’s data. The methods of voting were similar to that of the rest of the state, with the majority of Kanawha County voters casting ballots on Election Day and the fewest submitting their ballots through absentee voting.
Residents of West Virginia’s least-populous county, Wirt, cast 2,638 ballots during the general election, as of Wednesday, against its estimated population of 5,821 people. Following the statewide trend, most Wirt County voters cast their ballots in person on Election Day.
Only two counties, Jefferson and Ohio, saw more absentee ballots cast than in-person early voting, even though most voters in those counties voted in person on Election Day, according to the unofficial results of ballots that had been counted as of Wednesday.
Most state races had wide enough margins that they had been called by Wednesday. However, one race, House of Delegates District 65, which includes central Jefferson County, had its two candidates — incumbent Democrat Del. Sammi Brown and Republican challenger Wayne Clark — fewer than 200 votes apart as of Thursday afternoon.
According to the secretary of state’s website, there were 169 votes separating Brown and Clark to represent the district that includes Charles Town and Ranson. The secretary of state’s website on Thursday also showed 485 absentee ballots that had not been returned to the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office.
Candidates aren’t legally required to concede a race to each other or the public. In local and statewide races, the person, or people in districts with more than one representative, who has the most votes wins the seat.
Each election must be certified within 30 days after it takes place, under state law, but there are no other requirements as to how long county clerks have to complete counting ballots. County commissioners are allowed, by law, to delay canvassing if county clerks determine they need more time to count votes and prepare provisional and absentee ballots for review.
Election results are made official only after the canvass is complete, commissioners certify the results of the election and that certification is filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.