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Tennant urges W.Va. voters take caution in weather

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, along with spokesmen for the state's major political parties, urged residents to exercise caution when it comes to early voting as Hurricane Sandy pummels the state with heavy rain, high winds and snow.

"Be mindful of high water, downed power lines and icy conditions. Please, do not go out and risk your safety to try and make it to an early-voting location," Tennant said Monday, reminding voters there will be opportunities to vote once the storm has passed.

"There are several more days of early voting, and even Election Day, which is [Nov. 6]. Use your best judgment and stay off the roads if it's not safe," Tennant said.

Early voting at county courthouses around the state continues until Saturday.

Early voting was canceled for Tuesday in the Eastern Panhandle's Morgan County. Morgan was the only county authorized to suspend early voting, and the suspension is for one day only, Tennant said Monday.

County courthouses in several other counties were to be closed Tuesday, but Tennant said that just because county commissioners close a courthouse, that doesn't mean early voting is suspended in the county.

The secretary of state's office is working with county clerks to establish contingency plans for early voting in the event of extended power outages or other storm-related emergency conditions.

Tennant said batteries on iVotronic touch-screen voting machines have enough power to run the machines for several hours in the event of a power outage. She said there have been instances where individual voting locations have lost power without hampering the voting process.

During a media briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center Monday afternoon, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said restoring power to early-voting locations would be a priority.

"We'll do everything we can [to make sure] power to the polls [is] restored as quickly as possible," he said.

Meanwhile, state Democratic Party Executive Director Derek Scarbro said the party is still making calls encouraging people to vote early, and providing rides to early voting locations as weather permits, but also is calling for caution.

"We certainly want people to be cautious. We don't want anyone to endanger themselves trying to vote," he said. "Early voting does continue all week long, and I imagine there will be time to take advantage of it once the storm passes."

Traditionally, the last Saturday before Election Day is one of the busier days for early voting, and Scarbro said this Saturday could be particularly busy if residents have to postpone early voting because of the storm.

"We do think there will be ample time for people to take care of early voting later this week," he said Monday.

State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas issued a statement Monday morning also urging caution but encouraging Republicans to vote early if weather permits.

"Citizens should keep travel to a minimum, as weather degrades," Lucas said. "If your area is not seriously affected by conditions, we encourage you to visit your county clerk and vote early."

Lucas urged Republicans to bank their votes now in the event Hurricane Sandy leaves long-term power outages and other storm damage in its wake, as occurred in parts of the state following the derecho this summer.

"We have no idea just how much this storm might impede early voting later this week and the Election Day next week," said Lucas.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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