U.S. voters defy Sandy devastation to cast ballots
High voter turnout in storm-ravaged New York, New Jersey
Voter turnout was heavy Tuesday for election day in several storm-ravaged areas in New York and New Jersey, a welcome change from crisis to catharsis for many who saw exercising their civic duty as a sign of normalcy amid lingering devastation.
Lines were long in Point Pleasant, N.J., where residents from some Jersey Shore communities had to cast their ballots due to damage in their hometowns. Many there still have no power eight days after Sandy pounded the shore.
'Nothing is more important than voting'
Sarah Brewster of Long Beach, N.Y., was shaken when she entered a school to vote. She noticed that the clocks were all stopped at 7:27. That's the time one week ago Monday when everyone in her community had lost power.
Tears streamed down her face as she emerged from the school cafeteria. Brewster, who works at a nonprofit, said voting is "part of our civic responsibility in the midst of all this crisis."
"Oh my God, I have been so anxious about being able to vote," said Annette DeBona, 73, of Point Pleasant Beach. "It's such a relief to be able to do it. This is the happiest vote I ever cast in my life."
DeBona was so worried about not being able to vote that she called the police department several days in advance, as well as her church, to make absolutely sure she knew where to go and when. She was one of the first to cast a ballot in her neighbouring town, choosing Mitt Romney.
Renee Kearney, 41, of Point Pleasant Beach said she felt additional responsibility to cast a ballot during this election because it gave her the opportunity to influence disaster response. She had planned all along to vote for Obama, but said her resolve was strengthened by his response to superstorm Sandy.
"I was extremely impressed by his response to the storm," she said. "For people who were not so certain about him, I think this may have sealed the deal."
Creative solutions for storm-ravaged areas
The efforts put a premium on creativity. Authorities in New York and New Jersey were set to drive some displaced voters to their polling sites and direct others to cast ballots elsewhere as residents insisted the devastation wrought by superstorm Sandy wouldn't stop them from participating in Tuesday's election.
At a public school in Staten Island's Midland Beach, flares were set up at an entrance to provide light, and voting machines were retrieved from inside the school and moved into tents where voters braved –1 C temperatures as they lined up.
Voters arriving at another Staten Island school found no official signage referring them to a new polling place, but those who arrived on foot were taken to the correct location by a shuttle bus, officials said. A handwritten sign eventually was placed at the school's driveway.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was accompanied by his youngest daughter when he voted soon after learning that power had been restored to his home.
"I'm amazed at how resilient people are. I think there's tremendous interest in the election here and nationwide," Christie said.
In Ocean County along the New Jersey coast, officials hired a converted camper to bring mail-in ballots to shelters in Toms River, Pemberton and Burlington Township. Some 75 people in Toms River alone took advantage of the service Monday, officials said.
"It's great. This is one less thing I have to think about," said Josephine DeFeis, who fled her home in storm-devastated Seaside Heights and cast her ballot in the camper Monday.
In New York City, authorities planned to run shuttle buses every 15 minutes Tuesday in storm-slammed areas to bring voters to the polls.
Officials guardedly optimistic on election day
Election officials in both states were guardedly optimistic that power would be restored and most polling places would be open in all but the worst-hit areas.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Monday allowing residents to cast a so-called affidavit, or provisional ballot, at any polling place in the state for president and statewide office holders, an opportunity New Jersey was extending to voters as well.
"Compared to what we have had to deal with in the past week, this will be a walk in the park when it comes to voting," Cuomo said.
Provisional ballots are counted after elected officials confirm a voter's eligibility.
New storm expected
A new storm was expected to hit the New York-New Jersey region still shivering and cleaning up after last week's superstorm Sandy, bringing the threat of 89 km/h gusts and more beach erosion, flooding and rain by Wednesday.
"This is a more typical fall storm," said CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland, adding it is not expected to be as strong as Sandy.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of three nursing homes and an adult care facility in the Rockaways because of fears the weather might knock out electricity already being provided by generators. About 620 residents were being moved tonight.
Authorities were also sensitive to concerns about potential disenfranchisement and were taking steps to ensure voters were kept informed of continued problems or changes to their voting locations.
Ernie Landante, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Elections, said fewer than 100 polling places around the state were without power compared with 800 just days ago, and said the state has abandoned its earlier plan to use military trucks as makeshift polling places. Most voters will be able to cast ballots at their regular polling sites, he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged city residents to check the Board of Elections website to find out about polling changes.
"Vote. It is our most precious right," Bloomberg said Monday.
Staten Island resident Paul Hoppe said he probably wouldn't vote. His home, a block from the beach, was uninhabitable, his family was displaced and their possessions were ruined.
`'We've got too many concerns that go beyond the national scene," Hoppe said.