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W.Va. preps for election in Sandy's shadow

Nov. 02, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- West Virginia election officials were worried about lingering power outages from Superstorm Sandy as the death toll climbed to six, making the state one of the worst hit by the powerful tempest.

A ferocious mix of wind, snow and rain blamed for the West Virginia deaths also deterred in-person early voting, at least briefly, and officials were looking at the possibility that lack of power may keep some voting locations from opening for Tuesday's general election.

Power outages and other damage have impacted early voting in many states and raised questions about Election Day next week. In West Virginia, officials say around 5,600 residents cast early ballots Tuesday, when six counties closed their polling places and two others limited their voting locations. More than 14,000 had voted the day before.

With early voting continuing through Saturday, more than 96,716 West Virginians had cast early or absentee ballots by Wednesday, according to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

Locally, more than 5,286 people have cast ballots in Cabell County, and 1,413 people have voted in Wayne County, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State's website. In Mason County, 1,960 have voted, while 4,140 people have cast their ballots in Lincoln County. So far, 1,136 people have voted in Logan County.

Tennant said she's discussed advance planning with county clerks and commissioners in case precincts must be relocated or combined.

"Sandy isn't finished with us... Some of these precincts aren't going to have power," Tennant said Wednesday. "Counties know their areas and know their precincts well. We're just giving them suggestions and recommendations."

Sandy dumped heavy snow on West Virginia's mountains, snapping trees, pulling down power lines and collapsing homes.

Tennant noted that electrical utilities have put county courthouses and schools -- common locations for voting precincts -- high on their list as they work to restore power. About 190,000 customers statewide remained without power Wednesday evening, down from 271,000 a day earlier.

Tennant also warned voters not to believe any phone calls announcing closed or relocated precincts. That's been a ploy used to suppress votes, she said. Instead, counties will post notices at precincts and also inform the media.