BUCKHANNON — Upshur County’s political expert predicts Saturday’s special road bond amendment will likely fail to get the green light from voters.
Instead, Dr. Robert Rupp, professor of political science and history at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said Tuesday that the Roads to Prosperity special bond amendment will get a stop sign.
The main reason the special bond amendment won’t pass is because its proponents did not mobilize around one common message, Rupp explained.
“They have not found one common message, which you usually need to convince people to change their ways, because a bond — like electing a non-incumbent — is seen as a risk,” Rupp said.
But the fate of the amendment — which would authorize the state to issue $1.6 billion in bonds earmarked to finance road improvements and construction across the Mountain State — could hang on how many voters turn out to the polls Saturday.
“The only way I see it passing if it [voter turnout] is below 10 percent, and virtually most of West Virginia stays home, including those naysayers,” Rupp added. “And those few who really wanted it, turn out. I’m going to waffle and say if [voter turnout] is below 10 percent, it will pass, but if it’s over 10 percent — particularly 15 or 20 percent — it’s a mess.”
So far in Upshur County, 948 early voters and 15 absentee voters had cast their ballots as of Thursday morning, according to Upshur County deputy county clerk Carolyn Berry. There are 13,188 individuals registered to vote in the county. That 7 percent turnout might seem low, county clerk Carol Smith said, but it’s actually comparable to other special elections. For example, during the Upshur County Board of Education special levy election on Feb. 8, 2014, just over 1,000 people voted early.
“In comparison, that’s really not too bad,” Smith said.
Rupp listed a couple factors that he thinks could play into the amendment’s potential failure: first, Gov. Jim Justice has been too visible in his administration’s push for passage.
“If this is defeated, he’s going to be a major problem, because this man has managed to alienate members of both political parties,” Rupp said. “Democrats are mad at him, and the Republicans haven’t accepted him, and he really hasn’t passed any major legislation, much like (President Donald) Trump, so he’s in a precarious situation.”
Rupp said Justice’s August 2017 switch from Democrat to Republican was likely an attempt to ally himself with Trump, who is generally popular in West Virginia. Justice announced the switch during a Trump rally in the Mountain State.
“Most critics of this amendment are Republicans, and when he switched (political parties), he hoped to bring some of them over,” Rupp continued. “But he didn’t bring them over, he just agitated them because most Republicans didn’t want him to begin with.”
Of course, when voter turnout is low, anything can happen, Rupp said.
“It just throws all predictions and polls off,” he said. “Passing a bond — particularly in West Virginia — is extremely difficult. Our culture doesn’t like change. We distrust government and we don’t like taxes; those are three big reasons (why the bond would fail), so you’ve got to be very careful when you push a bond. All the ducks have to be lined up in a row, and I’m not seeing them.”
On Tuesday, Rupp wasn’t the only one predicting possible outcomes for Saturday. His American National Government class — comprised mainly of underclassmen — were tasked with forecasting the outcome of the special election. The students had split into four groups to produce a PowerPoint presentation on the bond referendum. While two groups predicted amendment passage, the other two groups said the bond referendum would fail. Rupp said the 50/50 split was indicative of just how uncertain bond passage is.
Students who forecasted its passage said the amendment would prevail because most voters would stay home, opting to hunt during bow season or watch the West Virginia University vs. Texas Christian University football game. They also noted that road bond advertisements — which may have led to a higher turnout — weren’t widely distributed.
Students who said the bond would fail — like junior Alexus Bonner — said most residents don’t believe the bond will actually create new jobs.
“Justice is the face of the bond, and people are not fond of him,” Bonner said. “Misinformed people thinking that it will raise taxes will vote against it, and the governor isn’t trusted. And it seems like when we fix roads, we don’t do it correctly and we have to go back in five years and do it over, so why don’t we do it right in the first place?”
Taxes to fund the road improvements have already been raised. The Senate passed a bill in June, that, as of July 1, raised a slew of Department of Motor Vehicles fees, hiked the privilege tax on the purchase of a vehicle from 5 to 6 percent and increased the wholesale price of gasoline.
According to information on the governor’s website, the bonds will be issued over a period of four years.
Several local groups, including the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce and Buckhannon City Council, have endorsed the bond’s approval.
Polling places will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. throughout the county Saturday. Some polling places have been consolidated, so the W.Va. Secretary of State’s office is urging voters to visit their county clerk’s office or visit GoVoteWV.com to locate their polling places.