Election problems disrupt voting in central Missouri

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Residents donated their flashlights and county officials gathered scented candles Tuesday after a power outage left voters in the dark in the central Missouri town of Vienna.

"We scrambled to find flashlights and candles and that's how we voted," said Maries County Clerk Rhonda Brewer. "We weren't very prepared for that but we will be in the future."

Polls opened statewide at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

About 1,600 registered voters live in Vienna and the surrounding areas. Brewer was unsure how many potential voters turned back because of the power outage. Some are likely to return later, especially those who loaned flashlights to voting officials, Brewer said.

Mike Cleary, a spokesman for utility AmerenUE, said the power outage affected about 2,000 customers in parts of Maries and Osage counties along U.S. 63 from about 4:15 a.m. to about 6:30 a.m.

Cleary said the power outage was caused when a wooden electrical pole broke near Belle. He did not know why the poll broke.

"Whatever polling places were in that area, they were probably affected by it," Cleary said. "The power wasn't off long but that probably had some impact."

Wanda Bunch, the Osage County clerk, said that power had been restored in that area by the time polling places opened.

Employees of AmerenUE also were checking a reported gas leak at the American Legion hall in Ashland, halfway between Jefferson City and Columbia.

People continued to vote there, despite the smell of gas, said Mary Cross, a Democratic election judge at the polling place.

But Cleary said the leak from an internal pipe did cause a disruption before it was fixed.

"It did delay voting over there, because people smelled the gas and were reluctant to go in there," Cleary said.

In the St. Louis area, which experienced voting troubles in the 2000 elections, voting apparently got off to a good start, said county election board commissioner Judy Taylor.

"We all were open on time, absentees are heavy and we haven't received any big problem calls. It's amazing," said Taylor, an election official for 28 years.

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