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State plans for powerless Election Day

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said Thursday she was still waiting for assessments from power companies before her office can finalize contingency plans for polling places that may still be without power on Election Day.

"We're still in a wait-and-see mode, surprisingly," Tennant said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

Nearly 137,000 utility customers statewide were still without power as of Thursday afternoon.

Appalachian Power officials estimated it would have service restored to more than 90 percent of its customers by Sunday.

However, First Energy subsidiary Mon Power, which covers northern and central parts of the state, said power might not be restored in some areas until the middle of next week.

Power companies were unable to use helicopters to assess damages earlier in the week, and that slowed restoration efforts. 

Transportation officials also said Thursday that about 40 percent of state roads were blocked due to downed trees or power lines. 

All of these factors could throw a wrench into Election Day in some areas on Tuesday.

Tennant said her office has been in constant contact with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, county clerks and power company representatives to determine how the storm may affect polling places.

Tennant said state officials and the power companies have a full list of precinct locations, schools and courthouses that have been designated as priorities for power restoration or installation of generators.

She expects power companies to have their assessments for those sites completed by today. Then they can say which locations will have power restored by the time polls are supposed to open Tuesday.

Once they know what locations still will be without power, she said her office would begin contacting county clerks to figure out how to work around the problem.

Some precincts may have to be moved.

Tennant said all counties have at least one emergency shelter location with power, and those locations could serve as polling places.

Should precincts have to be moved, Tennant said officials would spread word of the changes through local media.

However, no one will directly call voters in affected precincts to alert them of the changes.

Tennant said that was a consensus decision made by her office and county clerks statewide.

Prior to several recent elections, the Secretary of State's office and county clerks received complaints from voters reporting fraudulent phone calls saying their precinct location had been changed.

"We're not going to use that method just because we don't want to play in the hands of some unscrupulous overt plot," Tennant said.

She said signs also would be posted at closed precincts to instruct voters on where to go.

Early voting has resumed in all 55 counties, she said.

Tennant is encouraging people to drop by their county early voting location as they are out this weekend. That could help them avoid complications on Election Day. But she said people should go out only if it is safe to do so in their region.

For counties that use electronic voting machines, Tennant said those machines have battery power that would help them function even if generators go down. She also said county clerks are supposed to have some backup paper ballot stock as part of normal contingency plans.

County clerks also can use blank absentee ballots as backup on Election Day.

While several unknowns remained Thursday about polling location status, Tennant said she wasn't too concerned yet.

She said early voting activity has picked up in counties, and county clerks have been doing a good job of getting ready and meeting deadlines for this election.

She was confident they could quickly adapt to any changes the storm may cause. 

"I'm not at the worrying point yet," Tennant said. "If this were Saturday or Sunday, even Monday, then the worry would come into play."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.


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