WATERLOGGED ELECTION: Voting officials make contingency plan in the face of local disaster

COLUMBIA CITY — Hurricane Sandy left a soggy campaign trail in the aftermath of her wake. Presidential hopefuls wanting to utilize one more week of pressing flesh had their plans doused by the storm. Gaining votes is no longer the concern, but rather getting voters to the polls. Campaign analysts are weighing the impact of the storm on potential votes. Their concerns are for the many voters who won’t make it to the polls because of power outages, damaged homes or cleanup duties — not to mention the physical damage seen to polling locations and equipment.Officials from New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and other sea-bordering areas are trying to decide how to proceed with the act of casting ballots if voting locations are without power and under water.Although Whitley County is not threatened by the same floodwaters as the coast, emergency planning has started to take shape in the event a natural disaster should try to interfere with local voting.Debbie Beers, a clerk with the Whitley County Circuit Court and secretary for the County Election Board, said in June the Indiana Election Division urged county clerks, county election boards and emergency management officials to come up with a plan to keep voting locations open “no matter what.”Knowing that, Beers was already working with the county’s election board to make a plan in the event of potential voting interruptions such as power outages and floods.“Before we even knew about the storm we were working on a plan to discuss this very thing. But we were going to put all the details together after this election since we have been so busy,” said Beers.According to the Indiana Election Division, the decision to make an emergency plan for voting would need to be made on a county-by-county basis and is up to the county’s election board as to how to proceed.Beers said the election board, county clerks and emergency management officials would partner to implement a safe plan. Beers has already made arrangements to move polling locations should the need arise. “If there is a power outage, we would move locations to places with generators like the County Government Center and City Hall,” Beers said.For a short-term electrical need, Beers said the Infinity voting machine, used for voting in Whitley County, does have a back-up battery.In a worse case scenario, Beers said there are paper ballots ready to go for all 19 voting locations.