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State's hard-hit counties not optimistic for turnout

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Lingering effects from Superstorm Sandy may suppress voter turnout in the hardest hit counties, but local officials believe turnout in the Kanawha Valley will be strong.

Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick said Friday she anticipates close to voter turnout could be north of 60 percent for the general election.

"We're lucky," McCormick said. "We haven't had problems with the storm, people know that precincts will be open - I think we'll do 60 to 65 percent."

While much of Kanawha County suffered power outages last week, McCormick said power was restored to almost all polling place locations by Friday.

Only one precinct in Alum Creek was questionable Friday morning, but McCormick said she believes the county would be able to secure generator power for that location on Election Day.

In Jackson County, County Clerk Jeff Waybright said he intends to have all normal precincts up and running as normal on Election Day.

Only one polling place was without power in that county following the storm. If power were to stay down there, or go out at other locations Tuesday, Waybright said he plans to power those locations with generators.

"We have located some generator backup power and will move those accordingly, if needed," he said.

He said moving a polling place would only be a last resort.

"I don't like to do that, because so often people don't get notified," Waybright said. "Even if you leave a notice on the door, sometimes people get disgruntled and don't go anywhere else."

Jackson County is one of the few counties that has a satellite early voting location. In addition to a polling place at the county courthouse in Ripley, the county also has a voting location in Ravenswood.

Both locations remained open during the storm, though turnout was about one-third of what it usually is. But turnout bounced back the next day.

He expects turnout in that county to be on par with the 2008 election.

"We've had a big voter turnout for early voting," Waybright said. "In the last Presidential election we had 57 percent turnout. I'd say it'll be about the same."

However, clerks in counties hit hardest by the storm are not too optimistic about turnout on Tuesday.

"I think, since the storm happened, our turnout will go way down," Randolph County Clerk Brenda Wiseman said.

"I hope it doesn't - I would hope people would still get out and vote - but some people may not be able to," she said.

Randolph was one of a handful of counties that suspended early voting on Tuesday of last week. The county still had more than 10,000 customers without power as of Friday.

Wiseman said the weather has taken its toll on the county, and it forced officials to move their early voting location from its original spot.

"There for a couple days you couldn't even get down your road," she said. "We moved early voting to a different location than where we started at; we moved it down the street to a building that was fully powered by generators."

The county started evaluating polling locations late last week. Those evaluations were going to continue through the weekend.

Nicholas County Clerk Audra Deitz said county officials there have been in the process of evaluating polling locations.

"We're in the process of checking to see how many schools are without power," Deitz said.

She said she went around to some locations in Summersville and Richwood and was surprised that some locations already had power restored.

But she said Friday the key challenge in that area is making sure the three to four feet of snow on the ground is cleared by Election Day.

"The biggest thing is just getting snow moved, because it's so heavy," Deitz said.

She thought the weather would cooperate over the weekend and was hopeful the county would not have to move any voting locations.

Her big worry was making sure they had enough poll workers available to work on Tuesday. As of Friday, she had not received many calls from poll workers saying they won't be able to make it.

"That's been my concern all along, that we won't get the workers out," Deitz said. "I'm sure if it keeps warming up they'll be able to come out, but there's always some (cancellations) at the last minute."

Wiseman said her office started calling poll workers on Friday to confirm they would still be working on Election Day.

"We've went through several of them and so far everybody's saying they'll be there," she said.

The Randolph Sheriff's Department has offered transportation to poll workers who need help getting to precincts.

Wiseman said Randolph County commissioners have scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. today to decide whether to move some polling places.

"We're going to wait until then because it's really too early now to be moving precincts," she said Friday.

County officials want to give power companies and road crews enough time this weekend for restoration and clean up efforts. Once they see how quickly those efforts move along, the county will make plans to move precincts.

Should a precinct need to be moved, Wiseman said the current plan is to move that polling place to the nearest precinct that does have power.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/JaredWV.


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