Allentown Morning Call
While Hurricane Sandy has turned the presidential campaign upside down for local election officials who must keep democracy’s machinery working, the storm also hits at a particularly inopportune time.
The week before the election is a time of preparation, when materials and voting machines are carried to the polls and training is completed.
If power goes out for an extended period of time, it will take extra work to make sure electronic voting machines have electricity.
And Tuesday is the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots, which have to be returned by Friday.
Most Lehigh County government offices will be closed Tuesday, but the county’s voter registration office plans to stay open to accommodate last-minute ballot requests.
Lehigh County will push back distribution of election materials, originally scheduled for Tuesday, elections director Timothy Benyo said. A class for interpreters that was scheduled for the same day will also likely be canceled.
“We will assess the situation after the storm clears and hope everyone is safe and can be ready to serve next Tuesday,” Benyo said.
In a worst-case scenario, power could be an issue. PPL has notified customers to be prepared for up to a week without power, but for Benyo and other election officials, zero hour is 7 a.m. Election Day, when the polls open and campaign workers must arrive to staff them.
Gov. Tom Corbett said Monday evening that any counties that were closed Monday or Tuesday will get an extra day for each day they are closed, to accept absentee ballot applications.
Some county officials were not immediately made aware of the decision.
Counties also are encouraged to keep paper ballots in stock, and they can move polling places if power goes out.
Lehigh County’s machines can run for more than two hours on battery power, but that time shortens with heavy use. That’s sure to be the case with the presidential election.
If a location needs to be changed, officials will have to notify voters. That could include signs at the usual polling location and newspaper advertisements if time allows, Benyo said. State law provides the authority in the case of an “emergency or unavoidable event.”
Northampton County elections director Dee Rumsey said if that became necessary, she would post signs at the usual polling place directing voters to the new location on Election Day.
Corbett said it’s an issue he’s keeping an eye on, but by next Tuesday he hopes most places in the state will have had power restored.
Rumsey said her office remains on schedule with its preparations and hopes not to be affected by the storm or its fallout.
Northampton County didn’t plan to begin voting machine distribution until Thursday, said Howard Erney, who oversees the fleet of trucks that carries the equipment throughout the county.
Northampton County’s voting machines will function even if power is still out at one of the polling places, Erney said. The county’s machines come with a 16-hour battery. Ideally, though, they should be plugged in.
For now, they are safety squired away in the county warehouse. “This building is like a bomb shelter,” Erney said.