Turnout Heavy as Storm-Ravaged Tri-State Votes

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Katherine Creag is with voters as they line up outside tents and other makeshift polling sites on Election Day in the storm-ravaged Rockaways. (Published Tuesday, Nov 6, 2012)

    Storm victims lined up throughout the tri-state to cast votes Tuesday, in some places where tents replaced polling sites and voting machines were powered by generators, as officials promised the devastation wrought by Sandy wouldn't disrupt Election Day.

    Turnout was heavy, with many voters expressing relief and even elation at being able to vote at all, considering the damage from the storm.

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    Lines were long in Point Pleasant, N.J., where residents from the Jersey Shore communities of Point Pleasant Beach and Mantoloking had to cast their ballots due to damage in their hometowns.

    Many there still have no power eight days after Sandy pummeled the shore.

    Sarah Brewster of Long Beach, N.Y., was shaken when she entered a school to vote. She noticed that the clocks were all stopped at 7:27. That's the time one week ago Monday when everyone in her community had lost power. Tears streamed down her face as she emerged from the school cafeteria. Brewster, who works at a nonprofit, said voting is "part of our civic responsibility in the midst of all this crisis."

    Retired customer service agent Joan Andrews, who fled her trailer in Moonachie by boat a week ago, said, "I always have to vote, especially now. Many friends of the 68-year-old woman were too overwhelmed to vote, but Andrews said she'd encouraged them to take the time.

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    "Oh my God, I have been so anxious about being able to vote," said Annette DeBona of Point Pleasant Beach. "It's such a relief to be able to do it. This is the happiest vote I ever cast in my life."

    The 73-year-old restaurant worker was so worried about not being able to vote that she called the police department several days in advance, as well as her church, to make absolutely sure she knew where to go and when. She was one of the first to cast a ballot in her neighboring town.

    Renee Kearney of Point Pleasant Beach said she felt additional responsibility to cast a ballot this Election Day.

    "It feels extra important today because you have the opportunity to influence the state of things right now, which is a disaster," the 41-year-old project manager for an information technology company said.

    Authorities in New York and New Jersey were set to drive some displaced voters to their polling sites and direct others to cast ballots elsewhere.

    New York City Elections Commissioner J.C. Polanco said lines were long even in areas of the city most devastated by Sandy's wind and water. He said voters in the Rockaways area of Queens were casting ballots at a school where nine polling locations had been merged into one. Other voters in the Rockaways and one precinct in the Bronx were voting in tents powered by emergency generators.

    "We are asking New Yorkers to be patient. People are going to be standing on line for very long time," Polanco said.

    The efforts put a premium on creativity. At a public school in Staten Island's Midland Beach, flares were set up at an entrance to provide light, and voting machines were retrieved from inside the school and moved into tents where voters braved 29-degree temperatures as they lined up.

    Voters arriving at another Staten Island school found no official signage referring them to a new polling place, but those who arrived on foot were taken to the correct location by a shuttle bus, officials said. A hand-written sign eventually was placed at the school's driveway.

    Sixty of the city's 1,350 polling sites were unusable and residents who vote in those places would be directed elsewhere.

    Election officials in both states were guardedly optimistic that power would be restored and most polling places would be open in all but the worst-hit areas. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Monday allowing residents to cast a so-called affidavit, or provisional ballot, at any polling place in the state for president and statewide office holders, an opportunity New Jersey was extending to voters as well.

    "Compared to what we have had to deal with in the past week, this will be a walk in the park when it comes to voting," Cuomo said.

    Provisional ballots are counted after elected officials confirm a voter's eligibility.

     

    New York City's Board of Elections says some polling locations had problems implementing the new procedures.

    City Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez says some polls ran out of the affidavits due to heavy demand Tuesday.

    She says the city printed up only 250 of the affidavits per election district, and didn't have time to order extras. 

    Vazquez says the board also didn't have enough to educate poll workers about the change, which led to confusion.

    Some government watchdog groups also reported complaints about long lines and broken voting machines.

    Officials were also sensitive to concerns about potential disenfranchisement and were taking steps to ensure voters were kept informed of continued problems or changes to their voting locations.

    Ernie Landante, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Elections, said fewer than 100 polling places around the state were without power compared with 800 just days ago, and said the state has abandoned its earlier plan to use military trucks as makeshift polling places. Most voters will be able to cast ballots at their regular polling sites, he said.

    Landante also said the state had taken extra steps to make sure people displaced by Sandy's destruction would be able to vote, like allowing "authorized messengers" to pick up as many mail-in ballots as they request for people in shelters or away from their homes.

    "We are doing everything we can in this extraordinary situation not to disenfranchise voters displaced by Sandy. Their voices and their votes will be heard no differently than anyone else's," Landante said.

    But authorities abruptly switched gears on an additional directive that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office announced allowing displaced New Jersey residents to vote through email and fax.

    The directive allowed voters to request and file a ballot electronically. But under pressure from voting rights advocates, officials said those voters would have to submit a paper ballot along with the electronic filing — a rule the state's military personnel and residents living overseas are required to follow as well.

     

    After an overwhelming response to email voting, the New Jersey secretary of state and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno issued a directive extending the deadlines. Voters who send an email application by 5 p.m. Tuesday can receive ballots as late as noon on Friday, and by 8 p.m. Friday, those ballots must email or fax their completed ballots.

    The state took that action after the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said it was taking Essex County election officials to court over email ballots.

    ACLU spokeswoman Katie Wang said the group had about 25 complaints from voters who requested email ballots but said they did not receive them.

    Hudson County election officials also said they were flooded with requests for them by people who were not displaced.

    Later Tuesday, a judge rejected the ACLU's emergency petition to permit voters to cast federal write-in absentee ballots.

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