Superstorm Sandy’s impact could be felt everywhere in the weeks following the hurricane. And of course it left its mark on politics.
There were long lines on Election Day and it wasn’t just because people were anxious to do their patriotic duty as Americans. Many people had been displaced, their homes badly damaged or destroyed by Sandy, while others couldn’t travel because the fuel shortage had left their cars with little or no gas.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that allowed voters who lived in one of the federally declared disaster counties in New York to vote at any location in the state with an affidavit ballot. However, that only applied to the presidential and U.S. Senate races, not district elections.
“On Election Day we saw longer lines at the polls because people that were displaced were able to vote anywhere,” Tai White, a spokesman for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) said in an email. “There was also some confusion because of people being bused to other sites.”
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said Wednesday that he thought the Governor should have given both the public and polling sites more notice before imposing the order and should have been clearer regarding exactly what it entailed.
“It was very frustrating for voters and poll workers alike,” Comrie said. “They were not clear about the parameters of the order.”
Comrie said problems occurred when some out-of-state residents tried to vote in the district, while several area residents had moved and never registered at their new site. He noted that some places were worse than others, but all seemed to have problems.
People were already on edge because of the gas shortage and many still had no electricity after the storm, which made the long lines to vote all the more aggravating, Comrie said. He spent a lot of time waiting on those lines in his district and asking people to be patient.
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) attributed the the voting difficulties in his district to the ballot casting process which, he said, some residents still haven’t gotten used to.
“There was some confusion, no question about it, not because people could vote anywhere they wanted to, but more because we had these machines that were supposed to be high tech and there was this three-step process, and voters didn’t know how to use them,” Scarborough said.
The process includes checking in at the site, then filling out the ballot and inserting it into a privacy sleeve and finally taking it to a machine to be scanned.
Despite some snags, Scarborough said he was glad that so many people toughed it out and voted. “There was a strong sense that this was an important election,” he said. “People were determined to vote. They may have complained, but they stayed right there and waited on line. They didn’t go home.”
Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) expressed similar sentiments. She said that despite long lines, people waiting were orderly, and at least one site — PS 147 in Cambria Heights — voters were letting the elderly and disabled skip ahead in line.
“It was a hardship for any voter to stand on those long lines, and later in the day it got very cold,” Clark said.
The lawmaker said she didn’t think the storm was to blame for the wait time, even though she noted that many of those casting their ballots at PS 147 were from Rockaway. She believes it has more to do with high voter turnout — in the past the 33rd Assembly District has been known to have the highest voter turnout in the borough, she said — and the removal of PS 176 as a voting site because it is not handicapped accessible.
“A lot of sites were way over capacity,” Clark said.