People whose lives were upended by Hurricane Sandy joined other voters Tuesday to cast ballots after elected officials in New York and New Jersey rushed to relocate scores of polling places that had become unusable because of power failures, flooding or evacuations.
With neighborhoods still inundated by debris, silt and water, many people had to go to great lengths to cast a ballot in places that are little recovered from what officials describe as the worst storm damage to hit the New York City region, and where the prospect of more violent wind and torrential rain is looming this week.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York said that a powerful nor’easter expected to hit the area late Wednesday could bring a surge in the water level of as much as 4.5 feet at high tides – far less than the hurricane brought ashore, but enough to reflood low-lying areas.
Bloomberg said that the city would not require an evacuation of its low-lying waterfront areas, but that police cars with loudspeakers would travel through several shorefront neighborhoods to alert residents. He implored residents to use shelters. The storm is expected to carry winds of 25-35 mph to the city, with gusts up to 55 mph late Wednesday afternoon.
With one eye on the approaching storm, untold thousands of residents in the region devoted their energy, patience and, in some cases, ingenuity to voting.
‘Trying to survive’
Just after daybreak in Bay Head, N.J., Shelly Coleman and her husband, Terrance, bundled up in winter jackets, left their sodden, water-damaged home and headed to the Bay Head firehouse, where a makeshift polling place had sprouted – literally overnight.
The couple walked through the sand-blown and mucky streets, sidestepping the occasional dead fish. The firehouse, powered by an industrial-size generator that rumbled like the engine of a jet airliner, was one of the few places with heat in the tiny seaside borough, just below Point Pleasant Beach.
“Guess what? We got water back on Friday. It was so exciting,” Shelly Coleman said, approaching the borough’s clerk.
Another voter, Leslie Wentz, 58, said she had no heat and had not showered in days. The election, she said, was not her top priority, but she voted anyway.
“I think everybody is just in survival mode,” she said. “Everybody is trying to survive. The town is doing a great job. The church is doing a great job, but I feel like the federal government is not coming in and doing anything. I can’t get anybody to help me.”
Bloomberg and other officials have emphasized the efforts the city has exerted to recover after the storm and provide tens of thousands of New Yorkers with food aid and emergency shelter, while also trying to coordinate the logistics of holding a presidential election so even voters in the worst-hit areas, like Staten Island and the Rockaways, can take part in it.
As of Tuesday, about 350,000 homes are still dark, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Although power has been restored to more than 1.7 million homes in New York since the storm hit, Cuomo affirmed his annoyance with Consolidated Edison and the Long Island Power Authority for the pace of restorations, a message that resonated among some voters as they made the trek to the ballot box.
On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, hundreds of voters waited on the sidewalk and packed into a gym at Public School 163. Voters had to wait in different lines to determine their election district, to get a ballot, to fill out the ballot and to get the ballot scanned. The process took an hour. There was no help for the disabled, and people grew increasingly upset.
Officials tried to make the process work smoothly especially for those living in areas hard hit by the hurricane.
New Jersey and New York both said they would allow voters uprooted by Hurricane Sandy to cast provisional ballots anywhere in their states.
But the provisional ballots would, in many cases, allow residents to vote only in statewide contests and in the presidential election, in which President Barack Obama is heavily favored in both states. The ballots could not be used in local and congressional races, which in some areas are far more competitive.