The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 1, 2012

Early voter turnout heavy in Greenbrier County

LEWISBURG — Despite an unseasonable snowstorm that knocked out courthouse electrical service mid-week, early voting totals in Greenbrier County continue to rise.

According to County Clerk Robin Loudermilk, 114 people voted Tuesday, a day when the power was out at the courthouse for more than half the day. Fortunately, Loudermilk had the foresight to reserve an emergency generator the day before the outage occurred, allowing voting machines to remain operable.

“The Secretary of State’s office had told us Monday that early voting would have to proceed, even if the power went out during the storm,” Loudermilk explained. “I called Al (Whitaker) to ask for a generator just in case we lost power.”

Whitaker is the director of Greenbrier County’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

“He was waiting for me with a generator when I got to work at 8 a.m. (Tuesday),” Loudermilk said.

With the voting machines hooked up to the alternative power source, no voter was turned away, even though other courthouse offices were closed for the day due to the power outage.

In order to ensure she could get to work in spite of the wintry weather, Loudermilk stayed in the home of one of her employees Monday and Tuesday nights, she said.

“I live in the west end (of Greenbrier County), and I knew I might not be able to get here if we got the snow they were calling for,” Loudermilk said.

She characterized the early voter turnout as “very heavy,” an assessment based on her 11 years of experience in the clerk’s office. Early in-person voting totals are now near the 2,000 mark, and Loudermilk said the single-day record of 164 is greater than the early voting figures for many entire elections.

“Everything’s going well,” she reported.

Early voting of another type is also surging, Loudermilk said, noting her office has received nearly 300 absentee ballots thus far.

That means that, between early in-person ballots and absentee mail-in ballots, almost 10 percent of Greenbrier County’s 25,605 registered voters have already voted.

Loudermilk said she expects to begin tallying all of the early ballots as soon as the polls close at 7:30 p.m. election day, Nov. 6.

In past years, the county’s election officials have waited to count the absentee and in-person early voting ballots until after all of the election day totals from precincts have been tallied. The primary reason offered for waiting was that early and absentee ballots are cast by voters from virtually every precinct, and the computer program used to compile the figures would conclude that those early totals constituted the precinct’s final unofficial total, thereby misleading the public.

Loudermilk said she and her election staff had received training prior to starting early voting this fall, and the information they obtained will enable them to total the absentee and other early votes without final totals appearing prematurely on a precinct-by-precinct basis.

“I think it’s going to give us a head start on the work we need to do on election night,” she said.

Due to its geography, Greenbrier County — the second largest by area in the state — is often one of the last in the region to post election night vote totals. The county’s most far-flung precincts are more than an hour’s drive from Lewisburg and, once the polls close at 7:30, work must be done by poll workers at each precinct before the machinery and paperwork can be packed up and delivered to the courthouse for the ballots to be tallied. That means some ballots will arrive at the courthouse at 9 p.m. or even later.

Loudermilk is optimistic that this election day — her first as Greenbrier County clerk — will proceed according to plan.

“I have no fears about election day,” she said with a smile.

Early voting will continue through Saturday at the Greenbrier County Courthouse. Hours that final day will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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