With Election Day just one week away, state officials along the eastern seaboard are assessing the devastation done by Hurricane Sandy, which swept through the Northeast corridor and hit New Jersey and New York hardest.
For the second day, early voting was canceled in Maryland, while some in-person absentee voting locations in northern Virginia were closed, and early voting was suspended in six counties in West Virginia, a state hit by high winds and heavy snow.
But the looming challenge was for counties in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut where the storm surge flooded schools and other locations designated as voting sites next Tuesday. Election officials in coastal counties were struggling to assess whether power outages might force changes in some of next Tuesday’s polling locations.
The potential for disruptions to voting on Nov. 6 could depress voter turnout in storm-affected areas of New York and New Jersey, for example, but President Barack Obama is still likely to carry those two states with no difficulty.
In Nassau County, N.Y., where the south shore was inundated by the storm surge and where there are more than 900,000 registered voters, towns such as Oceanside and Long Beach are now under a foot or more of water.
Nassau County Board of Elections Commissioner William Biamonte said Tuesday that he and other officials were still trying to reach the emergency contact people at each of the polling locations in the flooded areas, but they’d been unsuccessful, as cell phone service was out in parts of the county.
Before the storm hit, officials mapped polling locations in what FEMA designates as Category 1 storm areas: 68 of Nassau County’s 400 polling locations are in that flood-prone zone.
“The real issue is power,” Biamonte said. “If we still have massive power outages a week from today, there are few options.”
One of them: when voters come to a polling location, they would be asked to fill out the ballot used in the county’s optical scan machines and instead of scanning them at the polling location (which is the normal procedure), those ballots could be taken to the county board’s office and scanned there. This option, he said, would delay the tallying of results by a day.
Biamonte said he expects voter turnout of about 670,000 in the county next Tuesday but is concerned that about 300,000 of those voters, who vote only in presidential elections, will be unfamiliar with the optical scan machines the county has adopted since 2008. That unfamiliarity might add another element of confusion on Election Day.
But “come hell or high water – which is what we just had – were going to be voting next week,” Biamonte said.
As in New York, and in New Jersey too, power outages, massive flooding, and impassable streets are making it difficult for officials along the coast to assess polling locations.