Sandy aftermath threatens to cause Election Day chaos

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Some New Jersey voters may find their hurricane-damaged polling sites replaced by military trucks, with -- in the words of state Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno -- "a well-situated National Guardsman and a big sign saying, 'Vote Here.' "

Half of the Nassau County polling sites on New York's Long Island still lacked power Friday. And New York City was planning to build temporary polling sites in tents in some of its worst-hit neighborhoods.

The Superstorm Sandy aftermath is threatening to create Election Day chaos in some storm-racked sections of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Some effects may be felt in other states, including Pennsylvania, where some polling sites still lacked power Friday morning.

Disrupted postal delivery will probably slow return of absentee ballots. And with some polling sites likely to be moved, elections officials were bracing for a big influx of provisional paper ballots that could delay the vote count in places.

Storm-related voting disruptions seem unlikely to change the presidential election outcome, since the biggest problem areas are in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which are all expected to go for President Barack Obama. But even when elections officials get polling sites up and running, many voters may stay away as they grapple with lingering damage to their homes, power failures and gas shortages. With turnout projected to be down in all these states, Mr. Obama could see his share of the national popular vote reduced.

The storm may already have affected the early vote, which could be important, given that analysts estimate that more than a third of votes this year will be cast before Election Day. Early voting was temporarily halted in some states. In Ohio, the crucial Democratic stronghold of Cuyahoga County, including Cleveland, had more people vote early every day this year than in 2008 -- until Monday's storm, when the daily tally began to lag from its levels of four years ago.

But the storm's lingering aftermath could have a bigger -- if not always easy to predict -- effect on state and local races. In Connecticut's U.S. Senate race, in which Democratic Rep. Christopher S. Murphy is running against Republican Linda E. McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive, some Democrats worry that storm damage in Democratic strongholds such as Bridgeport could depress the vote.

Several close House races are being waged in areas that saw significant storm damage. In Suffolk County, on Long Island's eastern end, Rep. Tim Bishop, a five-term Democrat, is in a rematch with Republican businessman Randy Altschuler, who nearly won the seat two years ago.

And on Staten Island, which saw some of New York City's worst storm damage, first-term Republican Rep. Michael G. Grimm, facing questions about his fundraising practices, is trying to stave off a challenge from Democrat Mark Murphy.

In Pennsylvania, power was out for 250 and 300 polling places just four days before the presidential election, state officials said Friday. The Corbett administration would not identify which sites were in the dark. Most outages were in the southeast, Lehigh Valley and northeast; others were scattered throughout the state. Pennsylvania has about 9,300 polling places.

Utilities have been asked to make polling places a priority after such customers as hospitals and nursing homes. The deadline for absentee voters in counties that had to close election offices because of the storm has been extended through 5 p.m. Monday.


Associated Press contributed.


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