Tough Tuesday: Tennessee Copes with Election Day Tornado, Aftermath

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Voters across the country went to the polls on Super Tuesday, but the day was more difficult in Tennessee because of a deadly tornado that ripped through the Volunteer State overnight, leaving election officials scrambling to cope in the aftermath. The Herald-Citizen has more:

As the magnitude of the tragedy in Putnam County [Cookeville] was unfolding Tuesday morning, Putnam County election officials were still tasked with conducting a Super Tuesday presidential primary.

“I heard the tornado. It was just a couple of miles south of us,” said Election Commissioner Linda Daniel. “We heard the freight train thing.”

Daniel, who lives on Gainesboro Grade, said she lost power and phone service, but suffered no damage. Still the lack of both landline or cell service made it difficult for her to communicate with fellow election officials until she was able to make her way into the election office.

Administrator of Elections Debbie Steidl said she learned early in the day that some precincts would not be useable.

“It was a little after 6 a.m. that we knew there were problems,” she said. “Streets were closed, electricity was gone and we knew that we would have some problems with some of the precincts.”

Steidl and Assistant Administrator of Elections Michele Honeycutt consulted with Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins to firm up emergency plans.

“We talked to Nashville, and we decided that we would vote people here (at the Election Commission office),” she said. “We had to find out which ones were places that couldn’t open up.”

Election workers who had been scheduled to man the precincts at Double Springs, Cane Creek Elementary School, Sycamore Elementary, Twin Oak Community Center, Buffalo Valley Community Center and Hyder Burks Ag Pavilion were told the bring their voting machines to the election office where technicians from the MicroVote company were able to reprogram 10 machines for use at that office. Some workers stayed to assist voters in the office, but many were released for the day.

Cookeville Community Center voters were also directed to the Election Commission office after that location was designated as a shelter for those affected by the tornado. Lines were forming out the door at 705 County Services Drive early in the day, but Steidl said there were no major issues.

In Davidson County (Nashville), polling hours were extended to give voters affected by the tragedy mor time to cast their ballot, the Tennessean reported:

As Tennessee reeled from a deadly tornado that has claimed lives and crushed buildings, a Nashville judge issued an eleventh-hour order extending all Davidson County polling sites to ensure that storm-ravaged families have a chance to vote. 

Polls that were initially planned to close at 7 p.m.  will now stay open until at least 8 p.m. CT, ordered Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle. 

Five large polling sites will remain open until 10 p.m. CT…

The ruling came at the request of four of the top Democratic presidential campaigns, along with the Tennessee Democratic Party. The groups filed suit in a Nashville court on Tuesday to extend poll times amid heavy tornado damage throughout the city…

Tornado damage has shuttered 21 polling places in Nashville, leading to long lines at alternate “super sites” that now must accommodate an unexpected influx of Super Tuesday voters.

The deadly storm damaged several polling sites in Nashville, prompting the election commission to set up alternative locations for displaced voters. 

The Howard Office Building was one such location. On Tuesday afternoon, the long line wound through the 4th floor hallway of the multistory building. 

Voters anticipated about an hour-long wait.

Those in the 60-plus person deep queue directed new arrivals to the end of it while they waited their turn at the voting machine. 

Some who got off the elevator turned around and left as soon as they saw the long line. 

Along with dozens of others, Brigid and Deshae Caldwell and their 9-year-old son Orion chose to stay. 

“There are always obstacles to voting. You can’t let that stop you,” Deshae Caldwell said. 

They also wanted to lead by example for their son. 

“As a kid, my parents would always bring us to the polls and we’ve always brought him with us too. So we’ve got to show him that it’s worth standing in line,” Brigid Caldwell said. 

Their regular polling site, Hermitage Presbyterian Church, was not able to open following the storm. The couple showed up around 8 a.m. and then tried another polling location where they were directed to the Howard Office Building. 

They had a message for the rest of the country: 

“Nashville are resilient and the storm won’t keep us from trying to represent ourselves in the big race,” Deshae Caldwell said. 

Obviously, the first concern in the wake of an emergency like this is the health and safety of residents, but when it happens on Election Day, election officials must find a way to keep the process moving despite the obstacles. Kudos to everyone in Tennessee who came together to make voting happen despite the storms – and best wishes and prayers to everyone there dealing with the aftermath. Stay tuned …

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