Voters overwhelmingly pick prosperity amid low turnout

BUCKHANNON — Upshur County and West Virginia voters as a whole pushed the gas pedal on Governor Jim Justice’s road bond referendum.

Few voters drove their vehicles to the polls, however. In Upshur County, voter turnout stood at just 14.21 percent. There were 948 early voters in the county.

Upshur County residents who did vote overwhelmingly approved the measure, with 73.25 percent of voters checking yes when all 21 precincts had been counted Saturday night. Upshur County mirrored the state results, with 72.82 percent voting in favor of the bond and 27.18 voting against. Results are unofficial until the canvass is completed.

The passage of the Roads to Prosperity amendment allows the state to issue $1.6 billion in bonds which will be used to fund 600 road construction and maintenance projects around the state. The bonds will be repaid through the approximately $130 million in annual fee and tax increases the state legislature approved this summer. Justice had pushed for passage as a way to jump start West Virginia economy.

Secretary of State Mac Warner was in Upshur County to watch the election process unfold from a different perspective for the first time.

“This is my first election [as secretary of state], so it’s good to get out there and watch the process of democracy at work,” he said.

“It seemed to be a slow day in most places, but everything seemed to go smoothly,” he said. “The county clerks have done a great job getting things prepared.”

Throughout the places Warner and his staff visited around the state, there was one constant however.

“The common theme was low voter turnout, but it was a special election and a Saturday election,” he said.

Upshur County clerk Carol Smith said the day went smoothly despite having a poll worker call in sick early Saturday and having to scramble to fill that position.

Smith started her day before 5 a.m. and spent the afternoon visiting 19 of the 21 precincts in the county.

Smith said voter turnout was slow on Election Day at the precincts she visited, but there were no apparent problems.

“I want to thank the poll workers, the custodians at the schools who have been there all day, my staff, the commission and Secretary Warner,” she said. “I feel honored that [Warner] was in my county today.”

Smith said her office went with paper ballots after learning the state would reimburse all of the cost of the paper ballots but not all of the cost for using electronic voting machines.

“I didn’t feel the taxpayers of Upshur County should front the cost of the election when we could get it reimbursed through the state,” she said.

Warner said most of the state went with paper ballots, but there were a number of counties who had not used a paper ballot in a while.

Upshur County has used a mix of electronic and paper ballots since receiving its machines.

The secretary of state also did not speculate on the election but said he understood why Justice wanted to have a special election for the bond referendum and get that process started sooner rather than waiting until the May Primary.

“It’s our job to help the county clerks to run an efficient election, not to take an official position,” he said.

Warner said he and his staff would conduct an after action report on how the special election went.

“The workers I saw here were very efficient and very conscientious,” he said. “They were very meticulous. There were a couple things where I think the process could be improved. We are taking notes back and talk to our elections division to see if they want to implement some of the observations we saw or if there are good reasons why it is the way it is.”

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