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West Virginia midterm voter turnout of 37.3 percent lowest in at least 6 decades

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia — While West Virginia Republicans made historic gains this election, the state's voters set a low mark for making their voices heard.

A paltry 37.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots in this year's general election, the lowest turnout for a regular general election in at least 64 years, according to figures from the secretary of state.

The next lowest general election turnout in the last six decades was 40 percent in the 1998 midterms. The secretary of state's numbers only date back to 1950.

Even for recent trends, this year's turnout was lousy. In 2010, 43.4 percent of voters cast ballots, compared to 41.6 percent in 2006 and 42.4 percent in 2002.

Early voting results offered a hint that voters weren't showing up in droves this year.

About 97,300 early votes were cast, in addition to 4,800 absentee ballots returned. For the first time since early voting was introduced in 2002, early votes decrease compared to the previous midterm election, which was in 2010.

The secretary of state's office said about 108,200 people cast early ballots in 2010, while 5,500 voted absentee.

Generally, voters are much more motivated when a presidential race is on the ballot. Still, West Virginia's midterm ballot featured plenty of significant races Tuesday, which almost all went to the GOP amid a national wave.

Republican Shelley Moore Capito resoundingly beat Democrat Natalie Tennant for retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller's seat, which he's held for almost three decades. Republican Alex Mooney was able to fend off Democrat Nick Casey for the 2nd Congressional District seat, which Capito left to run for Senate.

In a pricey 3rd Congressional District contest, Democrat-turned-Republican state Sen. Evan Jenkins ousted 19-term Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall by double digits.

Including spending by candidates and outside interests, the race cost about $15 million in just TV ad time, according to media buy breakdowns. The billionaire Koch brothers-run groups attacked Rahall and the Democratic House Majority PAC bashed Jenkins.

Only considering TV spots, about $108 was spent per vote in the 3rd District. About 138,800 voters cast ballots in the 3rd District, the least of West Virginia's three seats.

West Virginia Wesleyan College political science professor said the slew of negative TV campaigning could have turned off even more voters than usual.

Republicans will also have their first control in both state legislative chambers for the first time in more than eight decades. The GOP flipped the House and tied the Senate, only to gain that chamber's majority when Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, switched to Republican on Wednesday.

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