New Yorkers forced from their homes because of Sandy will be able to vote by affidavit ballot at any polling site in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
He ordered the "extraordinary" measure as a way to preserve Sandy victims' ability to vote, at least for president and U.S. Senate.
"We want everyone to vote. Just because people are displaced doesn't mean they should be disenfranchised," Cuomo said.
Voters living away from their homes will be able to vote for president and U.S. Senate from any polling place in New York state. Voters will be able to vote for candidates further down the ballot — candidates for Congress, state Senate and Assembly — only if they are voting in the same district where they live, Cuomo said.
"You can't vote for what we call down-ballot individuals," Cuomo said "Your vote will not be eligible."
The executive order permits voters displaced by Sandy to sign a sworn statement that they're legally registered to vote in the presidential and state races. They must first try to vote at their usual polling site.
Few details were released Monday. But a Cuomo spokesman said people using affidavit ballots won't be required to show any more identification than other voters, who don't normally have to prove their identity. The affidavit voters would have to be from areas declared a disaster because of Sandy: Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties. There was no estimate as to how many people might be able to vote by affidavit ballot.
That could play a role in several tight state Senate races in Queens, on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. The races that are close, according to recent polls and to the campaigns, could result in deciding majority control of the Senate. Republicans currently have a 33-29 majority, having wrested control from Democrats two years ago.
Mark Dunlea of the state Green Party noted that the directive allows voters to cast ballots for president, where Democratic incumbent Barack Obama is already expected to get all of New York's electoral votes, or for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has a commanding lead over Republican Wendy Long, but not the hotly contested state Senate races.
"It is better than nothing and ultimately its impact will be slight, but preserving the right to vote for two races not in doubt is not exactly a huge step for democracy," Dunlea said.
He said Cuomo's effort also could undercut the chance that New York would offer a second day of voting, as provided for in a never-used law, if turnout in a county was under 25 percent of total voter registration.
New Jersey had already allowed its voters to use provisional ballots at any polling site.
Earlier Monday, Common Cause-New York and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School urged the action after sending Cuomo a request on Sunday.
"Governor Cuomo has taken action to reduce the impact the storm will have on turnout for the Presidential Election," said a joint statement issued by the New York Public Interest Research Group, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Brennan Center for Justice. "Governor Cuomo understands that free and efficient elections are what makes this nation great. In this, their darkest hour, New Yorkers can trust that over 200 years of democracy will not be undone by a single weather event, no matter how disastrous."
"Sandy has taken so much from New Yorkers, but the right to vote should not be one of them," said Eric Marshall, manager of legal mobilization at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.