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Originally published October 30, 2012 at 7:48 PM | Page modified October 31, 2012 at 2:30 PM

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Storm brings big obstacles 1 week before vote

More than 8.2 million households were without power by midday Tuesday, with more than a fifth of them in swing states.

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A day after the storm hit, many state and county elections officials in storm-battered states were asking themselves how to get ready for Election Day next week.

The obstacles are formidable. More than 8.2 million households were without power by midday Tuesday, with more than a fifth of them in swing states — a potential problem in an age when the voting process, which once consisted of stuffing paper ballots into boxes, has been electrified.

Roads were impassible in some states, and mass transportation was hobbled in others. And Postal Service disruptions threatened to slow the delivery of absentee ballots to election boards.

The storm revived an uncomfortable debate, last raised after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, about what to do in the event that a disaster interfered with an election. Some of the hardest-hit counties in New York have begun weighing the possibility of moving their voting sites at the eleventh hour.

John Conklin, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said local elections officials "are assessing what their poll sites look like right now."

For now, most election officials say they believe that they will be ready for voting on Tuesday.

Matt McClellan, a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, said that county boards across the state had prepared contingency plans for any emergencies.

"Our office is staying in touch with boards of elections," he said in an email, "and we are confident that at this point in time local boards are prepared."

A spokesman for the Virginia State Board of Elections, Justin Riemer, said that only about 10 of the state's 134 early-voting sites were closed Tuesday and that the state expected to be ready for Election Day.

In Pennsylvania, officials said that getting all the polls open in all 67 counties on Election Day may be problematic.

About 1.2 million customers in Pennsylvania lost power in the storm, and utilities warned that full restoration might be more than a week away. All of the nine counties with the bulk of the power losses went for Obama in 2008.

But in the end, officials in the Keystone State vowed there would be little or no impact at the polls next Tuesday.

"Things have improved dramatically," Ron Ruman, a spokesman for Secretary of State Carol Aichele, said Tuesday. "There could be a precinct here or there that could be impacted, but the early reports we're hearing are pretty good."

Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania extended the deadline for county elections offices to take applications for absentee ballots.

For effects on early voting, many eyes turned to Ohio, which could determine the election's winner. But a strong sideswipe from Hurricane Sandy's western edge did not appear to have a significant impact on the early vote.

Though much of the state experienced nasty weather, including snow, rain and high winds that caused some damage and power outages in the Cleveland area, party and elections officials said they did not anticipate voting being slowed.

According to the Ohio secretary of state, more than 1.2 million Ohioans had voted, either by mail or in person, as of Friday. That figure represented more than 20 percent of the total votes cast in the 2008 race.

Some Democrats remained worried about the storm's effect on in-person absentee voting in Virginia, a swing state where precincts in nine communities — including several in Northern Virginia that were key to Obama's victory in the commonwealth in 2008 — remained closed Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm quite concerned," said Frank O'Leary, a Democrat who is treasurer of Arlington County, Va. and author of an electronic newsletter on voter turnout. "Good weather doesn't improve turnout, but bad weather does diminish it."

Republicans said the storm's impact would be nil, and by late afternoon Virginia's Fairfax County had reopened for business, inviting voters to come from 4 to 8 p.m. to its central voting location.

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