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78k have voted early or absentee in West Virginia as early voting period concludes Saturday

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia — Almost 78,300 voters have cast ballots so far in West Virginia before Election Day, marking what appears to be the first decrease in early votes in a midterm election since early voting began here in 2002.

However, the total is still growing, and early voting is set to end Saturday.

As of Friday morning, about 73,800 people voted early and approximately 4,500 others returned absentee ballots for the midterm election, according to the secretary of state's office. All but two counties reported their early voting totals. One did not report its absentee tally.

In the 2010 general election, 108,200 West Virginians voted early or returned absentee ballots.

Until now, votes cast before Election Day have steadily increased in each midterm election since early voting started in 2002. That year, about 24,000 turned out at the polls early for the general election.

The 2014 numbers reported Friday morning don't account for the remainder the day or for Saturday, when polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The early voting period opened Oct. 22. Voting hours in specific counties are available on the Secretary of State's website at http://www.wvsos.com

Overall, there hasn't been huge fluctuation in West Virginia's general election turnout in recent midterm elections.

In 2010, 43.4 percent of registered voters cast ballots. That's compared to 41.6 percent in 2006, 42.3 percent in 2002 and 40.2 percent in 1998.

The 1994 elections saw a high mark, when 49.4 percent of West Virginia voters showed up at the polls.

Turnout is much larger when the electorate is picking a president. But even without the president on the ballot, West Virginia features plenty of decisive races this year.

The lone statewide race is for the U.S. Senate seat that retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller has filled since 1985.

Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Natalie Tennant are the main candidates in that race. Libertarian John Buckley, Phil Hudok of the Constitution Party and Bob Henry Baber of the Mountain Party are also on the ballot.

The state's three congressional seats are also all contested this year.

In the northern 1st District contest, Republican U.S. Rep. David McKinley faces a challenge from Democratic state Auditor Glen Gainer.

Democrat Nick Casey and Republican Alex Mooney are the leading contenders for the 2nd District, which stretches 300 miles from the Ohio River on the state's western border to the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle. Independent Ed Rabel and Libertarian Davy Jones round out the race.

In the southern 3rd District, longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall is defending his seat against Republican Evan Jenkins.

All 100 seats in the state House of Delegates are on the ballot. So are 17 of 34 in the state Senate.

Polls will be open statewide from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Election Day.

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