Former Democratic stronghold West Virginia has turned increasingly red over the past decade, with the Republicans holding the governor’s seat and a supermajority in the state Legislature.
This election, Democrats say they hope to seize on the abortion issue to turn things around, urging voters to go to the polls after the Republican leadership passed an abortion ban with few exceptions in September.
But it will be a tall task — one-fourth of the races on the ballot have no Democratic candidates.
West Virginia Democrats, powered on the strength of their strong union presence and a clear identity as the party of working people, held supermajorities in both chambers as recently as 2008.
But in the 2014 general election, voters in the coal-dependent state steered their disgust toward Democratic President Barack Obama’s efforts to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. In the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, West Virginia was one of only two states where voters in every single county supported Donald Trump.
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GOP lawmakers and the state’s public school employees — the most formidable center of union power left standing — are at odds over a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the Republican supermajority final say over state Board of Education rules and policies. The vote comes amid a fight raging nationally over the politicization of schools.
In addition to the education proposal, voters will consider three other amendments to the West Virginia state constitution this election: one involving business and vehicle taxes, another concerning legislative impeachment proceedings and whether to keep a provision that bars churches and religious denominations from incorporating.
In the state’s two congressional races, GOP incumbent U.S. Reps. Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — fervent Trump supporters — face little-known Democratic and independent challenges with little to no political experience.
Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:
Polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET.
How West Virginia Votes
Most West Virginians vote in person, either through early voting or on Election Day. Early in-person voting is open to all voters in West Virginia, while absentee voting by mail requires an excuse. In the 2018 general election, 31% of voters cast their ballots before Election Day. The share of advance votes increased to 51% in the 2020 general election, after the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to neighborhood precincts, West Virginia uses vote centers where any voter from a county can cast a ballot.
Mail ballots make up only a small share of the advance vote in West Virginia. Ballots postmarked by the day of the election can arrive as late as November 14.
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Most counties in West Virginia vote Republican, but for Democrats to perform well, they look to certain counties that have had a history of voting Democratic, including Berkeley, Cabell, Harrison, Jefferson, Kanawha, Marion, Monongalia, and Ohio.
In past elections, West Virginia has counted nearly all the votes on election night, which should enable race calls in all but the closest races. West Virginia counted 0.5% of ballots cast after Election Day in the 2018 general election and 1.1% in the 2020 general election.
AP will tabulate and declare winners in 98 contested elections in West Virginia, including four statewide ballot initiatives and two U.S. House races. In the 2020 general election, AP first reported results at 7:57 p.m. ET and 90% of results at 2:31 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
The AP does not make projections and will only declare a winner when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap.
Should a candidate declare victory or offer a concession before the AP calls a race, we will cover newsworthy developments in our reporting. In doing so, we will make clear that AP has not yet declared a winner and explain why.
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The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome.
The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2%. The AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.
What Else Should I Know?
Q: What Did We Learn From the Primary?
A: The May primary was a test of Trump loyalty in West Virginia, and the results demonstrated that support for the former president is still a powerful force. The primary pitted two incumbent GOP congressmen against each other in the state’s 2nd Congressional District after population losses cost the state a House seat.
Rep. David McKinley lost to Rep. Alex Mooney after he was sharply criticized by Trump for breaking with his party as one of 13 Republicans to vote with Democrats for President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
Q: What’s Changed Since the Pandemic Election of 2020?
A: During the 2020 election, every registered voter was allowed to vote absentee due to a ‘stay at home’ order from Republican Gov. Jim Justice amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
This election, West Virginias will be allowed to vote absentee in if they are going to be out of state or unable to make it to the polls because of injury or illness. People can also vote absentee if they are confined at home due to COVID-19.
This year, despite evidence that election fraud is extraordinarily rare, West Virginia’s GOP-majority Legislature passed a law increasing penalties for violating election laws. It is now a felony to knowingly vote more than once for the same election. The crime was previously classified as a misdemeanor. Additionally, the Legislature passed a law creating a misdemeanor offense of election interference for any person who “physically interferes” with a voter’s travel to a polling place.
Q: How Long Does Counting Usually Take?
A: West Virginia counts votes quicker than many other states. In 2020, only 1.1% of votes were counted after the Wednesday following Election Day.
Q: What Are the Pitfalls With Early Returns?
A: Trends in early returns may not always be a reliable predictor of where results will end up. For example, if early returns are coming in predominantly from a county that is the home county of a given candidate, that candidate may get a strong showing early that doesn’t carry through as other counties report their results. We can see trends more reliably when the results provide us a representative sample of the electorate.
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Q: What Happens After Tuesday?
A: West Virginia doesn’t have mandatory recounts. Candidates may request and pay for a recount regardless of the margin between the top two candidates.