Faced with the prospect that thousands of residents of Queens and the rest of New York City might not be able to vote because of the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Cuomo on Monday issued an executive order declaring that those in storm-affected counties, including all five boroughs, can cast affidavit ballots anywhere in the state to ensure their votes count.
The order suspends three sections of the Election Law that would normally allow affidavit ballots — provisional ones used when a person's legal ability to vote is in question, to be determined valid or not later — only to be cast within a voter's election district. The governor said he acted under authority granted to him by his declaration that the entire state is a disaster area.
The practical effect is that a person living in a storm-ravaged section of the city, such as Howard Beach, who is now staying with relatives in another part of Queens — or any community in the State of New York — can vote at their polling place.
"New Yorkers who are victims of Hurricane Sandy should not lose their right to vote," the order says in part. "It is incumbent upon the State not to let this devastation undermine our democracy, and to actively facilitate the exercise of the fundamental, constitutional right to vote of registered voters who reside in the federally declared counties who have been impacted and displaced by Hurricane Sandy."
One open question is whether voters outside their districts can only cast ballots in the presidential and U.S. Senate elections, which are the same anywhere in the state, or if they can also vote in state legislative contests.
The order explicitly says that citizens can cast votes for all races and any initiatives that will appear on the ballot in their home election district.
The relevant section of the order says, "the voter’s vote will count for the office of President and United States Senator and it will also count for any other candidate for office and district as well as any ballot initiative that appears on the official ballot in the voter’s home district."
But that does not answer the question of how citizens can vote for a candidate who is not on the ballot they are casting.
The city Board of Elections earlier had announced that it was moving a number of polling places in Howard Beach, Jamaica and the Rockaways, as well as other storm-damaged parts of the city, so that all voters can cast their ballots. But the board had come under fire earlier this year from elected officials and government watchdogs for sending many voters to the wrong polling places after it changed some due to redistricting and efforts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, reducing public confidence that it could oversee the general election in a competent manner.
And that was before Hurricane Sandy demolished parts of Queens and Staten Island in particular.
See the governor's full order of today below.