How several states prepare for severe weather, power outages during an election

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
November 06, 2018, 11:45:54 AM EST

As millions of Americans prepare to cast their vote on Tuesday, severe weather may make traveling to polling places difficult.

A potent storm will push into the East on Tuesday, with severe thunderstorms forecast for parts of the region.

While storms may cause some travel disruptions, they could also pose challenges for election sites, especially if power outages occur, or a tornado warning is issued.

In Virginia, decisions are made at the local municipality level, according to Andrea Gaines, director of community relations and compliance support for the Virginia Department of Elections.

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An election worker sorts a new batch of ballots collected earlier in the day from drop boxes at the King County Elections office Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“Localities are responsible for maintaining their own continuity of operations plans, which usually include developing procedures for operating under adverse weather conditions,” she said.

Sarah Revell, communications director for the Florida Department of State, said all counties are required to have and submit to the department a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) which addresses all hazards, to include significant weather events or power outages.

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Donna Duncan, assistant deputy for election management for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said each of the state’s 24 local election offices have a disaster recovery plan and an incident management plan, which includes a shelter in place drill.

Mark Goins, Tennessee coordinator of elections, told AccuWeather's Jonathan Petramala that severe storms causing power outages is a concern, but a scenario they are able to withstand.

"We can sustain a time period without having electricity," he said.

Last spring, ahead of a snowstorm that would arrive the same day as the state primary election, the Wisconsin Elections Commission, shared information with local election officials about what to do in the event a polling place loses power.

Since voting hours are set by state law and polling locations are required to be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the state, each municipality was told to have a contingency plan, including how to transmit election results if there is a power failure.

"Optical scan voting equipment includes a battery backup that allows the equipment to operate without direct access to power," the elections commission states. "Each system has features that regularly save election data so that it can be recovered in the event of a power loss or equipment malfunction. Optical scan ballots may also be hand-counted after the polls close if there are issues that impact the ability to use the voting equipment to tabulate election results."

Additionally, election officials were told to consult with local law enforcement who could provide transportation to and from polling locations for election inspectors.

The weather can impact voting procedures in more ways than just severe thunderstorms knocking out power.

On Election Day in North Carolina, humidity was reportedly a factor. The North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement said it had received reports that ballots in some precincts cannot be fed through tabulators due to high humidity levels.

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