West Virginia Public Broadcasting Published

5 Questions You May Be Too Afraid to Ask About W.Va.’s 2020 Primary



The coronavirus pandemic has quickly become the biggest story of 2020, eclipsing the kind of news coverage we’d usually see in the run up to an presidential election. West Virginia will host its primary election next month, on June 9. 

For many of us, civics class was longer ago than we’d like to admit. And even if it wasn’t, there are plenty of changes this year due to COVID-19. (Here’s our primary voting guide if you have questions on how things have changed.) (And here’s our story about key races to watch.)



What is a magistrate? 


A magistrate is a judge that often hears cases related to small crimes, including misdemeanors. Think speeding tickets or other civil violations in which you would be cited and then released.

Magistrates also conduct preliminary examinations in felony cases and civil cases in which the financial dispute is less than $10,000. Additionally, magistrates can issue protective orders related to domestic violence cases. In counties where there are no mental hygiene commissioners, the chief judge can designate a magistrate to handle involuntary hospitalization cases.

In criminal cases, magistrates issue and record affidavits, complaints, arrest warrants, and search warrants, as well as set bail and make decisions concerning proposed plea agreements, the collection of court costs, cash bonds and fines.

According to the West Virginia Judiciary’s website, “Magistrates use their training and sound judgment to oversee the application and enforcement of state laws, municipal laws, and court procedures.”


In West Virginia, there are 158 magistrates, with at least two in every county. Magistrate judges do not need a law degree or to have entered into the state bar.


How does my registered party affiliation affect which primary I can vote in?

West Virginia has what is known as a “semi-closed” or “hybrid” primary, which very much affects which ballot you will receive and which party’s primaries you can vote in.

If you are registered as a Republican, you can only vote in the Republican primaries. If you are registered as a Democrat, you can only vote in the Democratic primaries. The same goes for those who are registered with the Mountain Party or Independent.

However, if you are registered as “No Party Affiliation” you can choose which party’s ballot you would like to receive for the primary election. That doesn’t mean you can jump from party to party between races (President, Governor, Senate, House, etc.). You can only choose one party’s ballot for all races.

For example, if you are registered as a non-affiliated voter and select a ballot from the Democratic primary, you may only vote to nominate candidates from that party for each race (President, Governor, Senate, House, etc.) The same applies to the Republican or Mountain parties, should you choose one of their ballots. 

For the General Election, every registered voter receives the same ballot. 


There was concern early on that COVID-19 could spread by mail. Do I need to worry about this, regarding my mail-in ballot?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main source of the coronavirus’s spread is from person to person contact through respiratory droplets from an infected person who coughs, sneezes or talks in close proximity to someone else.

However, researchers are still learning about the virus. The CDC says surface transmission, such as through mail, is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but there is some evidence that the virus can survive on some surfaces, such as cardboard, for up to 24 hours. 

The CDC also recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer after collecting mail from a post office or home mailbox.

That being said, because the virus’s main source of spread is from person to person contact, voting absentee is most definitely less risky than voting in-person. 


Is it too late to change my party affiliation? 

Yes. The deadline to register to vote or change your party affiliation is 21 days before each election. That date also serves as the deadline to change one’s party affiliation for a primary.

For the 2020 primary scheduled for June 9, the deadline to register to vote or change party affiliation was May 19. 


How does a provisional ballot work?

First, it’s important to remember, you cannot be turned away on Election Day if you show up to vote in most states, including West Virginia. Always request a provisional ballot. They serve as a fail-safe if there are administrative errors or if a voter’s eligibility to vote is uncertain. 

According to the Secretary of State’s website, a voter may be offered a provisional ballot if poll workers cannot find your name in the poll book, or you might otherwise be ineligible to vote. 

So, if you recently moved, didn’t get your voter registration in on time, or have some sort of inconsistency in your registration when you tried to vote at their precinct, you’ll likely be offered a provisional ballot. 

It’s up to each county board of canvassers to decide whether or not to accept your provisional ballot, and often it comes down to what the county clerk can find out about you using public records. Each county’s board of canvassers is made up of different county commissioners. 

You can track the status of your provisional ballot by checking with your local County Clerk’s office.

Have other questions? Check out the Secretary of State’s FAQ