Will Superstorm Sandy Keep People From Voting?
Despite power outages and storm damage from Hurricane Sandy, early voting in 2012’s presidential election will continue this weekend in hard-hit states—with New Jersey and Virgina extending hours—and continue on Tuesday, November 6, according to state and county election officials contacted Friday.
“Election Day is Tuesday. There’s nothing that can be done about that,” Tom Connelly, New York State Board of Elections Deputy Director of Public Information, said, noting that the date of every presidential election is fixed by the U.S. Constitution.
“I would imagine that there would likely be a negative effect on turnout,” he said, noting that the last time an Election Day followed a major storm many people stayed home to clean up. “People had other priorities.”
Election officials in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania contacted by AlterNet on Friday described their efforts to prepare for voters this weekend. Most notably, county offices in New Jersey will be open all weekend so people can vote early, and in the hardest hit areas of New York City and Long Island preparations are being made for alternative voting sites, including bringing in power, lights and ballot-counting scanners.
“We are prepared to handle emergencies,” said Joanne Arena, Union County, New Jersey, Board of Elections Deputy Administrator, who said her ocean-bordering county was delivering electronic voting machines to polling places and expected power to be restored by Tuesday. “The state has a handle on it, as best they can.”
The overall impression that state and local election officials in the arc from Philadelphia to New York City gave on Friday was that steps were being taken to ensure that people would be able to vote, including directives from state officials in both political parties that have relaxed deadlines for voting by absentee ballot (applications have to be in by the end of business hours Friday), or opening New Jersey county clerk offices all day Friday through Monday (8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.) so people can vote early, or creating consolidated polling places (New York) in the hardest hit areas
Notably, in New York State, the 2012 paper ballots have been printed and are ready to be distributed to local polls. The worst-case scenario would see those paper ballots taken from field voting sites to more central locations to be counted. But New York State’s electronic vote counting scanners also have back-up batteries if power is an issue.
New York State
The New York State Board of Elections spokesman Connelly said that every polling place was being inspected for water damage and power—an assessment that will end today. The county BOEs are trying to determine if polling places can be moved or consolidated, he said. The areas closest to the ocean have the most water damage—not just in New York City—but on Long Island’s southern flank, and up the Hudson River north of New York City.
The site assessment evaluates whether a site can be used, he said, and what would be needed to to supplement the operation, especially if there's no electricity. “Generators could be used for lighting and for the machines inside the buildings and in parking lots,” he said. “The voting counting scanners can run on batteries. In New York City, they have a 16-hour reserve power. Outside New York City, some only have a two-hour reserve.”
All the paper ballots have been printed, Connelly said. It would be possible to collect them at polls and take them to another location to be scanned if need be, he said. That happened in a few locations last year when Election Day came after storms Irene and Lee. “In some locations, makeshift ballot boxes were used to collect the ballots, with observers from the poltical parties and others watching,” he said.