Early voting begins in West Virginia's primary

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April 29, 2011

West Virginia

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Charleston, WEST VIRGINIA: In West Virginia's court ordered gubernatorial election, early voting for the May 14, 2011 has begun.

The state is holding a special election to serve the remainder of what was originally Joe Manchin's term, which the Democrat won in 2008. Upon Senator Robert Byrd's death in 2010, Manchin won a special Senate election and vacated his gubernatorial seat. West Virginia lacks a formal lieutenant governor and so Senate President Pro Tem Earl Ray Tomblin, also a Democrat, became Acting Governor. However, he did not formally give up his Senate seat.

Tomblin soon faced a lawsuit charging that he was in violation of the state's Constitution by simultaneously holding two office and serving in two branches of the government at once. Courts were also asked to sort out the question whether Manchin had vacated the office with enough of the term remaining to require an election. Under the Constitution, an Acting Governor may only complete a term when less than one year remains; nonetheless, Tomblin argued for being allowed to finish Manchin's term, something that would have guaranteed he would run as an incumbent in 2012. In the end, the West Virginia Supreme Court ordered a special election.

The race attracted plenty of contenders among both major parties and a healthy slate of third party candidates to boot. Many of the same candidates are running in the 2012 regular election, as well, where the incumbent advantage of taking the 2011 special election could be a huge help. Democrats are slightly favored in the special election and in 2012, though the winner of the GOP primary could impact that. Former Secretary of State Betty Ireland has put up some poll numbers that are competitive, if not as rosy as Republicans would like.

Early voting will be available to West Virginians from 8:30 until 4:30 local time on weekday and from 9 until 5 on Saturdays through May 11, 2011. The primary vote will be canvassed on May 16, 2011, ahead of the October 4, 2011 general election.