Already exhausted from a massive cleanup and nightmarish commutes to work, thousands of US voters in storm-struck New York and New Jersey encountered confusion and long lines as they tried to cast ballots on Tuesday.
Election officials face unprecedented challenges across the northeastern United States, where polling stations were among the thousands of buildings damaged by hurricane Sandy eight days ago.
New York and New Jersey took measures to ease the way for residents already coping with devastating flood damage, power outages and widespread fuel shortages.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said New Yorkers would be able to vote at any polling place by presenting an affidavit. In New Jersey, those affected by Sandy will be designated as overseas voters, allowing them to cast ballots by fax or email.
“We want everyone to vote. Just because you are displaced doesn’t mean you should be disenfranchised,” Cuomo said.
‘It’s going to get crazy here’
Cuomo’s order appeared to create confusion among poll workers, with paper ballots and affidavits in some cases being distributed even to voters who arrived at their regular polling place as opposed to only those whose assigned voting station was elsewhere.
At a voting precinct set up in an unheated tent in the Rockaways, a beachfront community in the New York City borough of Queens that was hit hard by Sandy, voting was delayed for about a half hour while poll workers struggled with the generators.
By 7am about 50 voters – including some who had lost their homes and traveled from temporary lodgings to get here – had starting filling out ballots.
“We wanted to be the first ones in and out,” said Melissa Hays, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom who lives in the Rockaways but has been staying with relatives in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Flatbush since the storm. “Once the sun comes up, it’s going to get crazy here.”
Voting at the YMCA on West 63rd Street in Manhattan was delayed because election officials could not find the ballot cards and scanners were not working properly. Among those arriving to vote there was Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of investment banking powerhouse Goldman Sachs. He left before voting there began.
Some 1.4m homes and businesses were still without power or heat as temperatures dropped below the freezing mark across much of the area overnight. More than 217,000 people have registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and about $199m in aid has been provided.
The exhausted region faced the prospect of a new storm – a strong “nor’easter” forecast to bring frigid temperatures and more rain and wind by the middle of the week.
With the region’s transportation network still disrupted a week after the storm, commuters stood for an hour or more on train platforms or street corners in New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut on Monday waiting for trains and buses.
The New York City subway ran at about 80 percent of its normal service.
Motorists endured long lines at gas stations. Many stations still lacked electricity or gasoline. Fuel rationing was in force in New Jersey, where some residents hired school children to stand in line with gas cans.