Voting After Sandy Was a Frustrating Mess

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Despite efforts by local officials to make voting easier for those affected by Hurricane Sandy, Election Day was chaotic and frustrating for many people in New York and New Jersey, where about 630,000 people and businesses still don't have power. Displaced voters made for long lines at many polling centers, and in the hardest-hit areas people cast their ballots in tents or vans, occasionally by flashlight. Some said their anger over their current situation was reflected in their votes; one New Yorker told USA Today that she was voting against every incumbent local official in the hope that "some new guys will get Con Ed to do a better job." Others had a more positive message. Reuters reports that while most residents of Bay Head, New Jersey were forced to evacuate during the storm, many trekked back to their local polling place. "We're very patriotic in this town," said resident Joanne Pehlivanian. "We're going to vote no matter what."

Ironically, it seems much of the confusion stemmed from measures intended to make voting simpler. E-mail voting for storm victims in New Jersey was already presenting problems before Election Day, forcing the state to extend its deadline for e-mail voting to Friday at 8 p.m. One local election official called the situation a "catastrophe," and of course, Governor Chris Christie had a colorful admonishment for New Jerseyans. "Everyone should find the time to vote today, but the only people who should be applying for their ballots online are voters affected by the storm," said Christie. "Everyone else, get your butt up and go to your polling place like normal."

Claire Suddath of Bloomberg Businessweek reports that arguments broke out at her local polling place in New York City over how to interpret Governor Cuomo's declaration that voters from federally declared disaster areas could vote at any location in the state with an affidavit ballot. Mayor Bloomberg, who's no fan of the city's Board of Elections, trashed it again at a press conference on Tuesday, saying it failed to secure enough fuel for generators at some sites and even managed to create problems that weren't related to the storm. Voting machines were delivered late to some sites, and machines with curtains and levers were swapped for new electronic devices. "All the crowds, it’s hard to get around, nobody knows where anything is," the mayor lamented. "It’s about as inefficient of a system — everybody I talked to kept saying, ‘What is this?’ … They were just stunned. I kept hearing, ‘What’s this? A third-world country?'”

It looked that way at a polling place in Rockaway Park, where residents took a break from dragging the water-logged contents of their homes to the curb and hauling water and food from donation centers to vote. Nine polling places in the Rockaways were consolidated into a "super-polling site" at Scholars' Academy, P.S. 180, which was comprised of a generator-powered tent set up on the basketball court. Estelle Lyons told New York that many fellow residents weren't even aware that the ad hoc polling place had been set up. "Don't let Sandy take anything more away from us," she said. "Especially not our right to vote."