Despite East Coast storm damage, election officials hopeful

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NEW YORK -- Power generators are being marshaled, polling locations moved and voting machines hurriedly put into place as officials prepare to hold a national election in storm-ravaged sections of New York and New Jersey barely a week after Superstorm Sandy.

Organizers expressed guarded confidence Sunday that the presidential vote will proceed with no major disruptions in most areas hit by the storm, though it was unclear whether the preparations would be enough to avoid depressed turnout in communities where people still lack power or have been driven from their damaged homes.

Some voters will be casting ballots in places different from their usual polls.

In Long Beach, N.Y., a barrier-island city that was inundated with water during the storm, the number of polling places will be cut to four, down from the usual 11. Residents of the devastated borough of Sea Bright, on the New Jersey shore, will have to drive two towns over to vote.

But with two days to go until Election Day, officials in both states said Sunday that they were overcoming many of their biggest challenges.

Hundreds of emergency generators have been rushed into place to ensure power at polling places, even if the neighborhoods around them are still dark. Electric utilities were putting a priority on restoring power to others and had assured election officials they would be up and running by today.

Of the 1,256 polling locations in New York City, only 59 needed to be moved or closed, said Valerie Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the city's Board of Elections. Most were in coastal areas of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens or other neighborhoods where buildings normally used for voting had been turned into shelters. In a few places, voters will be casting their ballots in tents, and some might be offered shuttle buses to get to polling spots moved miles from their homes.

Some New York City leaders remained worried. Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that the polling-place changes would affect some 143,000 New Yorkers. There were concerns about whether some poll workers might fail to show up, and as of Sunday night, the city's voting information hotline was down.

The Board of Elections has historically had problems opening all voting locations on time, even in a normal year, the mayor noted.

Just east of the city, in Nassau County, Elections Commissioner William Biamonte warned that some voting locations would have a "paramilitary look," with portable toilets, emergency lighting and voting machines running off a generator.

As of Sunday morning, the county had 266,000 homes and business without power -- more than anyplace else in the state. Some 30 to 40 polling locations, out of 375 in the county, were expected to be changed because of storm problems.

New Jersey residents were being given extra voting options. Registered voters will be able to apply for an absentee ballot by fax or email right through 5 p.m. on Election Day, and cast it via fax or email until 8 p.m. Displaced voters can also cast provisional ballots at any polling place.

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