State and local officials are working to figure out how much damage Hurricane Zeta caused to polling locations across Southeast Louisiana and if any need to be relocated ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election.
The Category 2 storm made landfall in Cocodrie, an unincorporated fishing village in Terrebonne Parish about 85 miles southwest of New Orleans. It brought wind gusts of more than 100 mph and 6-foot storm surges in some locations, tearing roofs off buildings, splitting tree trunks, damaging bridges and downing many utility poles.
Some polling locations, particularly in the southern parts of Plaquemines, Jefferson, Terrebonne or Lafourche Parishes, may have to be relocated. Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said power outages remain the most widespread challenge. His office is working with Entergy and other utility companies to assess and restore electricity to election infrastructure.
Zeta, the third hurricane to make landfall in the state this season, cut off power to more than a half-million customers in Louisiana, the state’s utility companies report.
“As recovery efforts begin in Southeast Louisiana, our thoughts and prayers are with our neighbors affected by this storm,” Ardoin said in a press release Thursday. “The Secretary of State’s office is working in close coordination with local officials to assess the damage sustained by our election partners and infrastructure, including registrar of voters offices, clerk of court offices, warehouses, and polling locations.”
Ardoin’s office plans to have a more thorough grasp of the damage to individual polling places over the next day or two and will coordinate with local clerks of court if polling place relocations are necessary. The goal is to keep as many polling places in the same location as possible, said Tyler Brey, Ardoin’s spokesman. The secretary of state expects statewide turnout in Tuesday’s election to be 69 to 71 percent.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he has formed an election task force with Secretary Ardoin and the Public Service Commission to handle hurricane-related problems affecting the election.
Many clerk of court offices across Southeast Louisiana remained closed on Thursday because of the storm. Gov. Edwards reported several parish government offices in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. Bernard and St. Tammany will also be closed Friday.
The Lafourche Parish Clerk Annette Fontana’s office had crews on the ground Thursday inspecting polling locations for damage. Fontana said she was mainly concerned about restoring electricity in time for the election.
The Plaquemines Parish Clerk of Court office could not be reached. Its phone lines emitted only busy signals throughout the day.
Orleans Parish Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell told The Advocate that he doesn’t know how many of the parish’s 122 polling sites will need to be changed but that he’s considering the Smoothie King Center as possible mega-site.
“I have my people out there right now” visiting polling places, he told the paper.
Gov. Edwards urged citizens to pay attention to their local news and local officials for updates on polling locations.
“If you didn’t vote early, if you haven’t cast that mail ballot, and you plan to vote in-person on election day, we need you paying attention,” the governor said. “We’re going to get you that information as soon as we possibly can.”