Election Day planning takes on new urgency in wake of power outages

With municipal elections in just five days, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill urged Connecticut Light & Power Tuesday to make power restoration to town halls and polling places a priority.

CL&P has said it expects to have 99 percent of the state's power restored by Sunday, but that cuts so close to Election Day that the state's chief elections official spent Wednesday helping local officials strategize.

"The shortages of electricity and difficulties with communication and mobility are challenging local election administrators like never before as they prepare for the polls to open next Tuesday," Merrill said in a statement. She held two conference calls Wednesday with registrars of voters, town clerks, mayors and first selectmen, as well as emergency planners.

Polls are expected to open as planned Tuesday from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. in most Connecticut cities and towns, she said.

William J. Quinlan, CL&P's vice president of customer solutions, told Merrill that the company is closely monitoring restoration efforts to ensure that polling places and town halls have power, she said.

During the conference calls Merrill answered questions ranging from how to ensure that election officials can get online into the state's database and print voter registration lists to where they might juice up backup batteries for the optical scan machines used to count paper ballots.

On Tuesday, paper ballots can be used in a worst case scenario where there is no power, and either scanned with battery-backup or put in bins and hand-counted later, said Av Harris, a spokesman for the secretary of the state.

Between now and then, Merrill advised election officials who have no power in their towns, they should go to neighboring towns that do have power like Montville, Manchester and Hartford to generate voting lists in advance. Some 18 towns have offered to make facilities available, he said.

"It's a good idea," said Montville Mayor Joe Jaskiewicz, whose registrars agreed to help out. "That's what regionalization is all about."

State officials also are encouraging election officials in towns that have no electrical power to charge battery backups for their optical scan machines in advance "anywhere they can," by coordinating with fire departments or emergency management offices, Harris said.

This week, the governor extended the in-person voter registration deadline for the coming municipal elections to Monday at noon. Voters can now register as long as they go to their local registrar of voters or town clerk by then.

Voter registration forms are available online at www.sots.ct.gov or at town offices or the state Division of Motor Vehicles offices.

Merrill also reminded voters that they can go online at www.sots.ct.gov to check their registration status, see where their polling place is located and look at the ballot for their city or town.

p.daddona@theday.com

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