Despite high winds and power outages across the county, polls remained open Tuesday.
Polling locations covering Amherst, Amherst Township, South Amherst, Lorain and Elyria lost power Tuesday afternoon, with machines switching to battery backups or generator power. Eight locations lost power: Faith Baptist Church in Amherst; VFW Post 754 in Amherst; Marion L. Steele High School; Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Amherst; Premiere Toyota, in Amherst but serving a Lorain precinct; Old Fashion Grace Baptist Church, in South Amherst, serving precincts covering South Amherst and Amherst Township; East Park Recreation Center in Elyria; and Grace Lutheran in Elyria.
Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said outages started around 2 p.m., with the city of Amherst losing power, affecting six polling locations.
“From the information we have they lost power for about 25 minutes approximately,” Adams said. “Those locations had battery backup, we were sending out additional battery backup to those locations, some of those locations started using paper ballots as a backup about 25 minutes after that and then that location started coming back online, power was restored.”
Amherst Mayor Mark Costilow said the city lost power due to a tree falling and breaking utility poles, damaging the main power line Ohio Edison provides to the city.
“The Fire Department was out actually going to the polling places with generators in case the outage lasted longer than it did,” Costilow said. “…Wind took a tree down a couple miles out of town and it was the main line that feeds the city. Ohio Edison made the repairs and, actually the repairs aren’t made, it a temporary fix … think it’s going to be a couple days of repairs … but Ohio Edison was able at least to restore service.”
Around 2:45 p.m., just after power was restored in Amherst, Adams said they lost power at East Recreation Center and Grace Lutheran Church, both in Elyria. Grace Lutheran serves Elyria and part of Carlisle Township.
“At those locations, battery backup was used to maintain operations at East Rec,” Adams said. “At Grace Lutheran, they needed to use paper ballots and then in both cases the Fire Departments were called out to assist.”
He said the Board of Elections works with Emergency Management Agency Supervisor Tom Kelley in the weeks leading up to the election to ensure contingencies are in place to provide backup generators or batteries to ensure voting continues.
The voting machines, circa 2003 or 2004, are equipped with batteries meant to last anywhere from two to four hours, Adams said, but the age of the machines has caused issues with them charging fully. He said technicians were in the field with extra battery backups, and some locations – like East Rec – had batteries on-hand as well as paper ballots.
Adams said while Grace Lutheran Church did have to use paper ballots for a time, the number of them issued was not expected to delay election results.
“If this would have happened at 5:30 p.m., that would have been a totally different situation, or at lunch time, but because it was the middle of the afternoon, none of these places had large lines,” he said. “… So it will take us a little bit longer in the evening to do that but not too much longer.”
There were reports of a transformer blowing in Elyria, but Adams said even if that had caused a surge, ballots would still be recording via the paper backup in each machine. He said while other states may lose votes due to power surges, Ohio has required paper ballots since it started electric voting to prevent those concerns.
The National Weather Service had a wind advisory in effect until 10 p.m. Tuesday night. Meteorologist Kirk Lombardy said the gusts, topping in at 40 to 50 mph, were caused by a low pressure system moving through the southern Great Lakes and forcing a cold front into the area.
“We’re in what we call storm season as far as the big storms that move through the Great Lakes and produce the strong gusty winds,” he said.
FirstEnergy reported 34 outages in Lorain County as of 3:30 p.m., with heavy winds causing most of the damages, Senior Communications Representative Christopher Eck said.
“Our meteorologists have been tracking this storm since last week, and our utilities are staffed up and prepared to prioritize outages at polling places into the evening,” Eck said.
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At 4:54 p.m. power had been restored to all Lorain County polling places. Voting continued during the sporadic outages and there is not current plan to extend hours at the polls, which close at 7:30 p.m.
High winds have interrupted power at seven Lorain County polling places and an Elyria elementary school, but so far, voting continues.
Prospect Elementary lost power and phone service at about 3 p.m. After-school activities were canceled.
Electrical service at the First Baptist Church in Carlisle Township, and Elyria polling place, was restored at about 4 p.m. Power had been out at East Park Rec Center in Elyria for about an hour at 4 p.m. At both locations, voting continued using battery powered voting machines. A generator was provided by the city to the recreation center.
Downed power lines led to outages across Amherst this afternoon for under an hour, affecting a total of five polling locations in Amherst, said Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams: The four serving Amherst and one at Premier Toyota, which, while technically in Amherst, serves voters in Lorain.
The elections board employed contingency measures to keep five polling places open.
Adams said all the polling places have some backup batteries for voting machines, but workers from the Board of Elections are delivering more to the sites, and working with the county Emergency Management Agency to get generators to the sites and operational.
According to the FirstEnergy website, more than 3,200 people — most in Lorain, Amherst and South Amherst Township — were affected by the outage.
Police are asking, via the department Facebook page, that residents who remain without electric contact the Amherst Utilities office at (440) 988-4224, or the police department at (440)-988-2625.