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Despite quake, Stafford vote rumbles on
Earthquake shakes up the polling places in Stafford

 Deborah Barley (left) talks with Stafford voting official Janet Skerry before casting her primary ballot outside of Drew Middle School.
SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/24/2011

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

The Drew Middle School voting precinct had a shake-up yesterday--literally and figuratively.

The Stafford County school was evacuated for almost an hour after an earthquake centered in Louisa County rattled the area.

So poll workers set up their voting equipment outside.

"We're doing curbside voting for real," poll official Janet Skerry said with a laugh.

The school had cracks to its auditorium walls, among other damage.

Stafford Fire and Rescue Executive Officer Mark Doyle said emergency personnel checked all 27 polling places for precautionary reasons.

"It really shook us," Skerry said. "It was worse than a Kings Dominion ride."

The quake wasn't the only complication in yesterday's Republican primary for Stafford commonwealth's attorney. Earlier this month, Registrar Greg Riddlemoser confirmed that 17,234 county voting cards had incorrect information.

Poll workers at five precincts said yesterday that they had to redirect some voters for various reasons. Some people had faulty voting cards, and others didn't bother to look at them, they said.

Riddlemoser has said the state Board of Elections sent corrected voting cards earlier this month.

Still, Falmouth District resident Howard Troy complained that his card was incorrect. He said he drove to Drew Middle, only to find out his polling place is at Conway Elementary School, within walking distance of his house.

"They're running us all over the countryside to vote," he said.

Drew polling official Sandi Pace said she had sent about 15 voters to other precincts as of 5 p.m. yesterday. Most of them took the news in stride, she said.

In fact, the mood was jovial at Drew despite the day's events. It took poll workers about 10 minutes to set up the voting equipment--including a ballot counter and an electronic voting machine--outdoors.

They decided to keep the equipment outside even after a fire marshal had deemed the school safe to occupy.

"We just said, 'It's a nice day. Can we just stay out here?" Pace said, recalling a conversation with the registrar.

Riddlemoser said nobody was turned away from the polls. Several precinct hosts tried to close polling places because of the earthquake, but, "We said no, we don't do that on election day," he said.

"I'm very, very proud of the response of the precinct workers," he said. "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.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com