The new coronavirus pandemic posed challenges to the nationwide conduct of elections, but the coupling of the outbreak with a historic hurricane season forced officials in Louisiana to move to Plan D.
After making adjustments for the new coronavirus outbreak, Louisiana officials faced another crisis: Hurricane Laura. This storm, considered a category 4 fatal storm, was followed weeks later by Hurricane Delta, a devastating blow to the long-running recovery, and on Wednesday the fifth storm of the season, Hurricane Zeta, landed a category 2 hurricane.
“The bottom line is that we’ve had two major hurricanes and the COVID emergency, so I would say we are at the top of the list in the most difficult election in the United States,” Lynn Jones, court clerk for Calcasieu Municipality, told Tekk.tv.
In August, according to Jones, Laura damaged about 95 percent of all structures in Calcasieu Parish and killed nearly 30 people in the state. Months later, people are still displaced from their homes and unable to fully re-enter them, and for some who might return, they rely on generators to generate electricity because it is not safe to connect the power, Jones said.
Five weeks after the impact of Laura, when Louisiana residents were still staying in hotels because their homes had been damaged or destroyed, the area was hit by Hurricane Delta, a Category 2, which prompted officials to reconsider their election plans. With a total of five storms, including tropical storms Cristobal and Marco and Hurricane Zeta, the Atlantic hurricane season of 2020 broke Louisiana’s national record.
The municipality of Calcasieu was spared the wrath of Zeta, and since forecasts predict a sunny day for Tuesday, they are working to reset the pre-election districts for Election Day. Even when the weather was fine, the officials had to make contingency plans in case of a power failure. Hurricanes Laura and Delta paralyzed the power supply of the municipality of Calcasieu, and although it is back in operation, it is not always fully functional.
“The problem is that they had to use some patches to [get the power back on]and they are going back to reinforce the infrastructure, so it is sometimes patchy,” Jones said. “In our large counties we have backup generators that will be on standby…. A lot of planning came into play because at the beginning we just didn’t know what was going to happen.
Smaller districts may not have generators, but a power outage shouldn’t stop people from voting, Jones said. The machines are equipped with a battery backup that can last for 12 or 13 hours, so voting can continue even when the only light comes from flashlights and cell phones.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, officials sent election workers from various parts of the state to help the areas in the local elections, but in a presidential campaign, each municipality needs its workers. Jones added that there was a six-month gap between Katrina and the election. This year, officials had six weeks to prepare.
Despite the difficulties already faced by Louisiana residents, Jones said they went to the polls “very strongly” during the personal pre-election poll that ended Tuesday. According to the U.S. Election Project, more than 817,000 pre-election ballots were cast in person, and in the Calcasieu community, voter turnout on a daily basis was twice as high and even three times the normal level.
Hurricane Laura forced officials to relocate about 70 percent of their districts because they suffered damage or feared they would not be viable on election day. The decision to consolidate individual locations into mega-districts was made early after Hurricane Laura, and 30 different districts are located at two sites.
If the decision to create mega-districts had been made in almost every other year, this would have been a much simpler solution. But the “COVID situation changes everything,” Jones said, and the “easy” move was made even more complicated by the pandemic. The risk of spreading the new corona virus means that people cannot enter through any door and go to their assigned precinct, so officials must control the infiltration and outflow of voters.
“I put pressure almost daily in the major media, urging voters to vote early if they could, because it would put pressure on the Druc