New Yorkers Struggle After Sandy to Vote

2:04 PM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
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Melanie Eversley, Oren Dorell, Gary Stoller and Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Dozens of polling stations moved in New Jersey and New York
  • Only two polling places had to be moved in Connecticut; thousands still without power
  • Despite confusion, many are determined to vote

WESTBURY, N.Y. - On a quiet street lined with the occasional remains of a downed tree or branch, voters in quiet Westbury, Long Island, trickled into the beige stone one-story Westbury Water District Garage Tuesday morning to cast ballots.

Merely a week after Superstorm Sandy ravaged much of the East Coast, general election voting here appeared to be running smoothly with no wait at all.

"Piece of cake," said Westbury resident Matt Cahill, 49, whose life in the week since Hurricane Sandy has been anything but.

Westbury was so hard hit that Nassau County, N.Y., election officials had to move two polling places to the water district garage. Cahill and his family just got their power back Monday. Because of the cold, he and his wife sent their four children to stay with his mother in Garden City Park. The lawyer who normally commutes to Manhattan worked out of an office his firm operates in Jericho, Long Island.

That was not the story everywhere.

Voters across the storm-ravaged East Coast left their unlit, unheated homes, walked past generators and fallen tree limbs and cast their votes. Many voted in polling places far from their voting districts under rules improvised by election officials to smooth the election process despite a storm that knocked out power to millions and flooded thousands of homes just a week ago.

At a school on Manhattan's East 23rd Street, some voters waited more than an hour to cast ballots, and two poll workers nearly came to blows with each other as they tried to handle the crowd.

Despite fallen trees from Superstorm Sandy lying across the street and some local residents still without power, voter turnout was heavy on a cold, sunny morning at Head O'Meadow elementary school in western Connecticut.

Election officials in New Jersey and New York moved dozens of polling places and made other accommodations for voters displaced by the storm.

In New Jersey, Secretary of State Kim Guadagno has allowed voters to cast provisional ballots in any county for statewide races, which include votes for president, the Senate and two statewide ballot questions, said her spokesman, Ernest Landante.

Election officials will count those ballots at the end of the day, after verifying the voter's registration, signature and that he or she cast only one vote in the election, Landante said.

The list of polling stations that needed to be relocated because of the storm dropped from 800 last week to less than 100 Monday and zero this morning, he said. The reasons vary. Some came off the list because utilities provided power to those locations. Others have been moved or combined with polling places in the same district or nearby, he said.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order allowing voters in five hard-hit counties who were displaced by Sandy to cast a vote for statewide and national elections anywhere in the state.

Roughly 60 polling places were relocated in New York City, most because of structural damage, power outages or both caused by Superstorm Sandy. The moves, combined with the city's first use of electronically scanned ballots for a presidential election, led to long lines and some short tempers.

Electrical generators brought in to power polling places in a few areas hard hit by the storm initially failed to operate, but were later fixed, Valerie Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Elections, said shortly after 11 a.m. The board hired extra information clerks to help voters find the proper line for their election district, said Vazquez.

"We're getting calls from polling places around the city that the early turnout is high," said Vazquez. "We're asking people to have patience with us. Our goal is to ensure that everybody who wants to vote gets to vote."

In Connecticut, the storm caused election officials to move only two of the state's 773 polling places, said Av Harris, a spokesman for the Connecticut Secretary of the State. This morning, 9,426 customers of Connecticut's two electric companies remained out of power.

"The hurricane is an issue," said Harris. "Some roads are blocked, and it may affect voter turnout. But we're a lot better off than a week ago. We didn't get hit as hard as New Jersey."

At Hooper Avenue Elementary in Toms River, N.J., election clerk Chris Patterson was expecting voters from 10 election districts rather than four, as voters from ravaged barrier island towns such as Seaside Heights made their way inland to vote.

Patterson was expecting about another 200 voters. The extra load is smaller than it might have been because Ocean County opened three emergency offices where people could vote early. Change is coming so quickly that even Patterson can't keep up with it all. With an embarrassed smile, he said he's not quite sure how the state's plans to accept ballots via fax and e-mail will work.

"To tell you the truth I'm not sure," he said. "Our office only received power yesterday."

Superstorm Sandy's impact will also be felt in residents' votes for local politicians, said Eddie Denny, a Staten Island resident of about 22 years.

How a local politician reacted after the storm will affect many people's opinions of that candidate, Denny said. His house was in one of the hardest hit areas of Staten Island. He is now working on recovery efforts for his home, but thought taking time to vote was important because "I want my candidates to win," he said.

Alisa Andrew said women's rights and health care issues were the major reasons she voted. President Obama "definitely" deserves another term in office, the 48-year-old writer said.

"I was impressed with how Obama handled the disaster," said Andrew, who spent four days last week without power. "He seemed very sincere, and I like the way he and (New Jersey Governor) Chris Christie came together to help the victims."

Mary Cassidy, a 25-year-old Staten Island resident, turned out to vote at the makeshift voting area at New York City's Public School 52 on the island. Cassidy normally votes inside but the school got soaked with Sandy's floods. Cuomo's idea to let people vote anywhere is "brilliant," she said.

Some voters were putting off voting till later in the day because storm damage left them confused about where to vote or unable to reach a polling place in time.

Ronny Kapner of Old Westbury, N.Y., said Tuesday morning things are "a mess" in his community due to the storm and he did not have a chance to vote before heading into Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road for his sales job. He's not sure where he's supposed to vote or if officials relocated his polling site because of the storm. He'll vote tonight after work, he said.

"I think the high school is open," said Kapner, 60. "I'll find out from my wife."

One thing he said he is sure of is that he'll vote "because the country is going to pieces."

Suzanne Krause of Great Neck, N.Y., lost power in the storm and has been able to ride out the week with family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But on Tuesday, she was headed back to Long Island to check on her house and to cast her ballot, which she feels is important. Her community experienced lots of fallen trees, she said.

"I'm going back now because I want to vote," said Krause, 66.


Contributing: Laura Petrecca, Melanie Eversley

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