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Polling Frustrations For Charleston's West Side Voters
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For citizens on Charleston’s West Side, early voting wasn’t much of an option and Election Day had its hiccups.
The precinct at West Side Middle School confused some voters. Polls were usually in the gym, but not this year, due to some construction. A lack of signage, parking and accessible walkways didn’t help either.
Olubunmi Kusimo-Fraizer, 41, told her husband the precinct looked like it wasn’t even open.
“We had to ride around for a while to figure out exactly where to go. And I told him straight up I feel disenfranchised,” said Kusimo-Fraizer. “I’m really not happy with this. I think this is ridiculous.”
Janet Hamilton, 83, had quite a few steps to climb considering her family had trouble finding accessible parking.
“These are the poorest signs and the poorest directions to the polling place I have ever experienced,” Hamilton said. “Not a ballot sign or a polling sign next to the highways pointing toward the school, there was no way to let us know where the polling place was.”
Hamilton did get to vote alongside her daughter Judy Hamilton, 57, and her granddaughter Anna Hamilton Schles, 25.
“We are three generations of West Virginia women voting, and nothing will prevent us from voting,” Judy Hamilton said.
This frustration is on top of the shuttering of an early polling place for West Side residents. Voters received a letter telling them where to vote early in their neighborhood. But Secretary of State Mac Warner said the polling place would violate state election laws. The reason was the Kanawha County Commission failed to meet a filing deadline.
“My mother absolutely would have voted early at that new location, which has handicap accessibility,” Judy Hamilton said. “We are annoyed that in Kanawha County, they made it as difficult as possible for West Side citizens to vote.”
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee opposed the polling place.
Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango has said the polling place will be in place for the general election.
The West Side is known for its affordable family homes and a larger Black population.
Back at West Side Middle School, Stacey Hager had no trouble finding the polls. He was grateful for that.
“There are a lot of anti-democratic laws and movements happening to keep people from voting,” Hager said. “Do this while you can, because you never know what in the future will happen to where that will be restricted for whatever group.”
During the 2023 West Virginia Legislative session, lawmakers considered two bills to lower the state’s smoking rates. Both bills were sent to Health and Human Resources Committees and neither moved any further.