Officials in storm-battered New York and New Jersey created a system to enable hundreds of thousands of residents to cast ballots away from precincts that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
More than 250 polling places in New York City, its suburbs and two hard-hit coastal counties in New Jersey were shifted to alternate locations because they were in Sandy’s destructive path.
Election officials and campaign workers came up with strategies to notify voters of the new polling locations. New York City arranged shuttle transportation to help residents of Coney Island, Far Rockaway and Staten Island to get to the polls.
One million voters in New York and nearby suburbs live in areas where polling places were damaged or lost electricity, said Doug Kellner, co-chairman of the state election board. That includes 250,000 who will be asked to vote at a different place, he said.
Voting disruption “will not have a significant impact on the return of results,” Kellner told reporters yesterday on a conference call. “We will expect that most of the communities will report results about the same as they have for an election with a large turnout.”
Neither New York nor New Jersey is considered a swing state in the presidential race. President Barack Obama is expected to win both states in the contest with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island should be able to deliver “fairly complete” results by midnight, Kellner said. Complete returns from New York City probably won’t be available until 4 a.m. tomorrow because closing polls “takes much longer,” he said.
A shortage of election workers in the New York City and Nassau County may lead to longer lines, he said.
“The presidential election is always the event that stresses the capacity of the election system because the turnout is always twice as much as it is in other elections,” Kellner said in a telephone interview.
To notify voters of polling-place changes, New York City officials put up signs at polling places and distributed leaflets at food and emergency relief centers and evacuation sites, said city election board spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez.
A week after the Atlantic superstorm hit the U.S. Northeast and knocked out power to 8 million customers, election officials in New York and New Jersey were dealing with electrical outages. More than 756,000 customers in New Jersey were still without power yesterday afternoon and almost 500,000 had no power in New York, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
Two New Jersey jurisdictions, Ocean and Monmouth counties, moved more than 180 polling sites, many in beachfront communities with severe storm damage. The two counties have a combined electorate of more than 800,000 registered voters.
In Ocean County, a bus equipped with 12 voting machines went to eight area shelters to allow as many as 15,000 displaced residents to cast early votes yesterday, said George L. Gilmore, the county’s election board chairman.
“We are making available every opportunity to allow them to vote,” Gilmore said in a telephone interview.
New Jersey set up a text-message system to enable voters to text their address and receive notification of the location of their polling place. A mobile-phone application issued by the New York City board of election provided the same information, officials said in a statement.
“There will be people at the original poll site directing voters where to go,” Kellner said.
Supporters of Republican Representative Michael Grimm of New York and Democratic challenger Mark Murphy drove sound trucks through neighborhoods to notify their supporters where to vote, he said.
Kellner said campaign supporters are using other methods to get people to the polls. Besides two contested state Senate races, there is also a close congressional race in Suffolk County between Representative Tim Bishop, a Democrat, and Republican Randy Altschuler.
Monmouth County spokeswoman Laura Kirkpatrick said she has appeared on local radio stations telling voters about more than 150 changes in voting locations. A list of voting-place changes was published in the Asbury Park Press and towns used their emergency phone notification systems to inform voters of new poll locations, she said.
A directive by New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno to allow e-mail voting by displaced residents drew objections from voting-rights advocates who questioned the security of such a system.
“It is very easy to forge signatures, it is very easy to hack into a system and steal ballots,” Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University’s Newark campus, told reporters on a conference call yesterday
Voters in affected areas in New Jersey are being given a chance to vote by fax machine. Electronic ballots must be received by 8 p.m. when the polls close in the state, Governor Chris Christie’s office said in a Nov. 3 statement.
Residents seeking to use this voting method must e-mail or fax a signed application for a mail-in ballot. The election officials will issue a ballot that must be completed, scanned electronically and returned via e-mail or fax.
Venetis said the law allows such a procedure to be used only if the paper ballot is returned by regular mail.
‘Easy and Simple’
“We’re trying to make sure it is as easy and simple as possible for people to vote,” Christie told reporters yesterday.
New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa assigned 300 deputy attorneys general to election-board offices in the state’s 21 counties to provide legal advice. They will help “ensure a fair and smooth-running election,” he said in a statement.
In New York and New Jersey, displaced voters will be allowed to cast ballots at any polling place. Only votes for president and U.S. Senate would count if the polling place is outside the voter’s local jurisdiction, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said after he signed an emergency order allowing the procedure.
“We want everyone to vote and just because you’ve been displaced doesn’t mean you should be disenfranchised,” Cuomo told reporters yesterday.