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East Coast earthquake rattles primaries in Virginia
Despite rumbling, voting continues
Voters in several Virginia counties headed to the polls on Tuesday under sunny, late-summer skies. Primary day 2011 seemed to be going along as normal for an August primary until about nine minutes before 2pm when the ground started to shake, rattle and roll.
The East Coast experienced a rare magnitude 5.8 earthquake at 1:51 p.m. on Tuesday. The epicenter of the quake was located in Mineral, Va.
Although some poll workers had to create makeshift voting precincts outside in the shade, voting never stopped throughout the state and polls remained open until their normal closing time of 7p.m.
In Louisa County, where the epicenter of the earthquake was located, Cristy Watkins, registrar of voters, said things went extremely well considering the circumstances.
Watkins said voting was never disrupted and while some voting booths were moved outside out of concern, polling places were able to run on generators or super-long extension cords.
With phone lines overwhelmed in the minutes following the quake, deputy registrars fanned out to the six affected polling places to check on poll workers and voters.
The county elections office was moved to the county’s emergency operations command center and the county’s IT department provided laptops to the elections officials.
“It was a real sense of community,” Watkins said. “Everyone pulled together and everyone in our office kept a real cool attitude.”
The Stafford County fire marshal inspected all 27 of the counties polling sites shortly after the quake and deemed them all safe and voting continued even though some of the polling place hosts tried to shut-down operations.
“We said no, we don't do that on election day," Registrar Greg Riddlemoser told The Freelance Star."I'm very, very proud of the response of the precinct workers. Nobody really thinks that you're going to have an earthquake on election day. I'm very pleased with the calm nature and the business mentality" of the poll officials.
Election officials throughout the affected counties seemed to take the historic (for the East Coast) event in stride.
About an hour after the earthquake, City of Falls Church Registrar Dave Bjerke quipped on Facebook, “Falls Church will not be suppressed. Outside the polls voting!”
In Arlington County where voting continued throughout, Registrar Linda Lindberg told a local website that the only people who called to keep the polls open later than the 7 p.m. closing time were the candidates themselves.
It was largely business as usual for Fairfax County, one of the state’s largest and most populated counties. A number of polling places were evacuated when the earthquake happened so they could assess if there was structural damage and all facilities that were evacuated set up in the parking lot with the voting machines running on battery power.
According to Edgardo Cortes, registrar, most facilities were cleared within an hour or two although one polling place did suffer structural damage so they remained outside through the close of polls at 7pm. The registrar’s office worked with the school to run electricity outside. All 232 polling places remained open for voting until the regular close of polls.
Operations in the county elections office were not affected by the earthquake although Cortes noted that they definitely felt the tremors.
“While our emergency plans contemplate blizzards, hurricanes, and even terrorist attacks, earthquakes weren’t really on our list of issues to plan for,” Cortes said. “I think our staff and election officers in the field performed incredibly well and ensured that we continued voting the entire day without more than a few minutes of interruption.”