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Weather-Related Power Outages, Hurricane Damage Complicate Voting
Weather-Related Power Outages, Hurricane Damage Complicate Voting
Jul 19, 2024 11:36 PM

At a Glance

Recent hurricanes damaged some polling places and left others without power.Plans were implemented to use generators at some sites.Power outages were also ongoing from a winter storm in Oklahoma.

Officials in several states rushed to bring in generators and restore power to polling locations on Election Day, after recent hurricanes and a winter storm left ongoing and widespread power outages.

More than , businesses and other locations - including voting sites - were without power across four states as of Tuesday morning, according to poweroutage.us. More than half of those, about 121,000, were in Oklahoma, where a week ago Winter Storm Billy coated power lines and tree limbs with up to an inch of ice. About 40,000 outages were being reported in Louisiana, most of them from Hurricane Zeta, which made landfall Wednesday.

On Sunday, Louisiana's Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said in a statement, "All remaining polling locations currently without power have a generator either operational or scheduled for a Monday delivery and installation. No polling location will be without power on Election Day."

Thousands of Zeta-related outages were also still happening in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as a few in Georgia.

Here's a state-by-state look at how voting is being impacted by weather-related power outages heading into Election Day on Tuesday.

Louisiana

Ardoin said there will be reserve generators, technicians and support staff on standby on Election Day, ready to help any location that experiences technical difficulties. He also said voting machines contain a battery reserve that can run up to eight hours without power.

The state saw a record turnout for early voting, despite some areas still recovering from previous hurricanes and thousands of evacuees who haven't yet returned home.

Early voters in Lake Charles, spared by Zeta but hit hard by Laura in August and Delta in October, turned out in as they did in the last presidential election, according to a report by The American South.

(MORE: Hurricanes Laura and Delta Complicate Voting For Displaced Louisianans)

Still, there were concerns that the storm damage, power outages and the coronavirus pandemic could all lead to voter apathy.

“They are still trying to rebuild. When you have those kinds of challenges, it makes it very hard for folks to be interested in voting," said Ashley Shelton, executive director of the Power Coalition, an activist group in New Orleans. "They feel frustrated and unsupported.”

A group of volunteers planned to about 150 Lake Charles residents staying in a New Orleans hotel back to town so they could vote on Election Day, Bloomberg reported. It's a six-hour round trip.

Voting sites in Lake Charles were consolidated into a handful of larger locations after Hurricane Laura. A few areas hit by that storm are also still without power.

Georgia

At least one polling place, at a church in Cobb County, had to be changed because of storm damage ahead of Tuesday's election, The Associated Press reported. It was moved less than half a mile away.

As of Monday, two or three voting sites were still without power, said Gabriel Sterling, statewide voting system implementation manager.

State officials had discussed the possible use of generators, and voting machines have at least a two-hour back up battery. Georgia has an emergency system in place to use paper ballots in the event of power outages on Election Day, but not during early voting.

Polling places in at least in Georgia were affected when Zeta hit the state Thursday, mostly due to widespread power outages, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Some opened later than usual or directed voters to alternate sites. Metro Atlanta's Douglas County ended early voting altogether due to damage and lack of power.

Besides power outages, early voting was also delayed in some locations because poll workers couldn't reach them or there wasn't enough light to see, according to the AJC.

Mississippi

State officials said generators were available for a handfull of precincts that may still be without power.

Jackson County Circuit Clerk Randy Carney told the AP after Zeta passed through that early voter turnout was noticeably lower on Thursday at the county courthouse, which was operating on a generator and about one-third of its normal staff.

Carney said 400 people a day were coming in to vote earlier in the week. That dropped to 200 ahead of the storm on Wednesday, when the courthouse closed early. And only 20 voters had shown up by noon Thursday.

Carney said he didn't think the storm would affect overall voter turnout, though.

Alabama

Secretary of State John Merrill pledged that all of the state's 1,980 polling sites would have power for Election Day, either from regular service or a generator, according to the AP.

Lawana Patterson, chief probate clerk for Talladega County, said on Monday that emergency officials told her the county's 26 polling sites were all up and running.

"I’m not saying everything is perfect, but I’m working on it,” Patterson said.

Oklahoma

Trees and power lines were covered with up to an inch of ice after a winter storm, , blew through a week ago. The storm caused widespread power outages.

Areas in and around Oklahoma City were hit hardest. Utility company OG&E was prioritizing election-related power outages, according to KFOR. Early voting started Thursday and ran through Saturday.

The Oklahoma County Election Board opted to use generator power because ongoing outages are expected as limbs continue to fall from trees and work is done to restore power.

“That would mean we would go dark for a few minutes during our early voting and then we’d have to reboot the whole system,” Board Secretary Doug Sanderson said.

Polling places will stay open even without power, he said. Workers will set up booths in areas where there is natural light and use flashlights if necessary.

“They’ll secure the ballots and return them to our office, and we’ll count them here,” Sanderson said.

A person casts their vote in the glow of a voting machine during early voting at the Dunwoody Library after Hurricane Zeta knocked out power in the surrounding areas on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Dunwoody, Ga.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, .

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