PRINCETON — County clerk personnel across West Virginia are preparing their voting machines and their polling places for voters who want to cast their ballots before the May primary election arrives this year.

Early voting in West Virginia begins on April 25 and continues until May 5, according to Mercer County Clerk Verlin Moye. The primary election will be on May 8, and the last day to register is April 17. Early polls will be open also on Saturday, April 28 and Saturday, May 5.

The polls will be open on both Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Moye said. On the weekdays, the early polls open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 4:30 p.m. Plans call for having polls at the Mercer County Courthouse and three other locations across the county.

“We’re again having four locations,” Moye stated.

The three satellite polling places include the Bluefield Recreation Center on Stadium Drive, a site adjoining the Bluewell Pharmacy of U.S. Route 52, and the Ashworth Baptist Church on Athens Road near Melrose Square, Moye said. A notice listing each polling place will be published in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

The voters who cast their ballots early take some pressure off poll workers later, Moye said.

“About 25 to 30 percent of our total votes are cast early, and that frees up a lot of tension on Election Day,” he stated. “That really helps out on Election Day and you have less waiting time ultimately on Election Day, and nobody likes to wait. I think in the 2016 general election the worst wait I heard complaining on was 30 minutes, not as bad as other areas in the states.”

In Monroe County, voters will have two places where they can cast their early ballots, Chief Deputy Clerk Jeremy Meadows said. One polling place will be on the lower level of the 911 Center in Union. It is adjacent to the Monroe County Courthouse. The second one will open at the town hall in Peterstown. Both polling places will be open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On Saturday, April 28 and Saturday, May 5, the polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Election officials in McDowell County were unavailable Monday.

Two recently-passed laws went into effect in time for the May 8 election.

“There are a couple of changes we have this time around,” Moye said. “One is going to be the voter ID requirement, and the second is the electioneering distance; that’s been reduced from 300 to 100 feet.”

The first new law requires voters to have identification when they go to the polls. Acceptable identification that doesn’t have a photograph includes a voter registration card, Medicare card or Social Security card, birth certificate, West Virginia hunting or fishing license, state SNAP ID card, bank or debit card, a health insurance card issued to the voter, or a utility bill or bank statement issued within six months of the election.

Acceptable identification featuring a photograph includes a West Virginia drivers license or other state ID card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, a driver’s license issued by another state, a U.S. passport or passport card, military ID issued by the United States, a federal or West Virginia government employee ID card, a student ID card or a concealed carry (pistol/revolver) permit.

In the past, campaign posters and other election materials and activities had to be 300 feet away from polling places. The revised law reduces this distance to 100 feet, Moye said. The law does not prohibit election posters closer than 100 feet to a polling place when they are on private property.

“That was something of a gray area in the past, but now it’s spelled out very clearly; and it includes early voting periods,” Moye stated.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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