Flashlights and batteries keep vote running smoothly

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There were a few issues and challenges at the polls during Saturday's primary election - some the result of Tropical Storm Bertha passing - but officials addressed the problems and voting went on.

On St. Croix, power outages presented some challenges, while on St. Thomas, a problem with the e-poll books at one location and some other issues caused some polls to open late.

On St. Thomas, Sibilly School poll judge Gaylin Vogel said the poll opened late, at about 8:15 a.m. because the e-poll books had corrupted data files.

According to Vogel, at first they tried to call the technicians at the main Elections office to troubleshoot the problem over the phone, but that was not working and the books had to be taken back to the Elections office in Lockhart Gardens, where they were reloaded with the district's registered voter information and sent back to Sibilly.

When the poll finally opened, about 30 people were waiting in line to vote, Vogel said.

They were moved through quickly, though, and the poll experienced no problems after that, she said.

On St. Croix, there were power outages to deal with as winds from Tropical Storm Bertha lashed the island Saturday morning.

While the voting machines have battery backups, the loss of power also left the voting stations in the dark.

Power failures struck at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary, Alexander Henderson Elementary and St. Croix Educational Complex.

At Pearl B. Larsen, which had voters from its own precinct as well as those from Florence Williams Library, voters made their way through darkened corridors to the polling place.

Poll judge Eurece Hendricks, who was overseeing Florence Williams voters, said there had been a short two-minute outage before the polls opened, but a much longer power failure started at 9:52 a.m.

The batteries for the voting machines kicked in, poll workers moved polling stations nearer to windows to cast some natural light on the situation for ballot-marking, and workers and voters used cell phones and flashlights for light, officials said.

At one point, the battery for one of the two machines assigned to the Pearl B. precincts ran down, but poll judge Masserae Sprauve Webster said that voters just used the other machine assigned to the precinct during that time.

There was no delay in voting because of the situation, she said.

The two judges said that meanwhile, Elections Board member Roland Moolenaar, who was assigned to Pearl B., went home to get his generator, and by early Saturday afternoon, the polling machines were plugged into the generator and batteries were recharging. Power came back on sometime after 1 p.m.

"We have the challenge of no power, but other than that, we are making it happen," Sprauve Webster said.

At Alexander Henderson, where voters from Henderson, Claude O. Markoe Elementary and St. Gerard's Hall precincts were voting, officials said there was a shorter power failure, from approximately 8:10 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.

Battery power kicked in for the machines, and workers and voters used flashlights and cell phones for light, poll officials said.

At St. Croix Educational Complex, a power failure lasted for several hours.

The polling site was split with voters from Eulalie Rivera School and Evelyn Williams School located in the auditorium while voters from Alfredo Andrews and Charles Emanuel School voted in the school's library.

When the power went out, the backup generator clicked into action, but the way the school is wired, the generator powers most areas - but not the auditorium, according to Election Board Member Raymond Williams, who was assigned to that site.

While the machines had back up battery power and continued to function, it was not expected that the power would be affected by the tropical storm, according to Williams.

Eventually, one machine's battery ran down, and a paper jam also occurred because a voter tried to feed in a ballot that had been folded and misshapen, according to Williams.

A few voters wound up using the machine's locked drop bin, and poll judge Rosa Soto-Thomas planned to feed those ballots through the machine at the end of the day, with Williams, monitors and other poll workers as witnesses.

Eventually, officials learned that while the area where the audience sits - and where the machines were - in the auditorium is not connected with the generators, the stage area is. So they ran extension cords from the stage out to power the machines and recharge batteries.

Soto Thomas said the power failure made things more difficult, and it was a struggle. She noted that during the outage, she could not see her poll workers as they worked the floor.

"It is difficult and not what we are used to, but we are making out," she said.

None of the polling places on St. Thomas had outages, officials said. There was some minor, isolated leaking at the Tutu Park Mall polling place, where workers put up caution signs and used hand towels to clean up.

Some polls on St. Thomas also opened late, mostly because poll workers were unfamiliar with the new machines and it took a little longer than expected to get the machines opened and ready to accept ballots, officials said.

The three polling precincts located at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School all opened at about 7:45 a.m.

Dober Poll Judge Helen Sebastien-Gabriel said her poll was ready to go at 7 a.m., but her staff - whom she made attend extra training sessions - were helping the two other precincts figure out the e-poll books and the machines.

Ulla Muller M-Z Poll Judge Diana Spiver-Dowe said there were some hiccups in the morning getting the equipment up and running in the Cancryn cafeteria.

"But once we opened everything has gone smoothly," she said.

- Aldeth Lewin, Fiona Stokes and Jenny Kane contributed to this report.

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