Fire. Gas leaks. Spotty electricity.
For myriad reasons that were still making themselves known Tuesday afternoon, to say that Hurricane Sandy has made the 2012 election one for the record books would be a gross understatement.
More than 1 million homes and businesses across the Northeast—including more than 200,000 Long Island Power Authority customers in Nassau and Suffolk counties—struggle with a lack of electricity, heat and gas in the face of plummeting temperatures.
Countless residents have lost their homes, automobiles, livelihoods—and as more time passes without relief, their sanity.
Election-wise, the destruction left in the superstorm’s wake forced dozens of polling stations across Long Island to be moved to new locations, causing additional havoc and chaos.
As a remedy for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers displaced, still in damaged homes, or devoid of even a functioning polling station to cast their ballots, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Monday allowing those affected by the storm to vote at any polling station, regardless of where they live.
Nassau County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Louis Savinetti said around noon if he had to sum up what it’s been like so far, he’d say, “It’s a challenge.”
In additional to the typical issues associated with rolling out such a large operation during normal circumstances, he told the Press, the destruction has dealt other, unique challenges: generators going out, a fire at the polling station at Lindell Elementary School in Long Beach and a gas leak at the polling station at John Lewis Childs School in Floral Park.
“Both polling places had to be evacuated,” he said, adding that he believes the situations at both locations were eventually brought “under control.”
“There’s no election quite like this one,” he added. “The amount of polling place changes we had to do is unprecedented.”
Savinetti said this was also the first presidential election that the county was using ballot scanning machines, which can sometimes jam. Voters then use paper ballots to cast their votes, he said, which are scanned at a later time.
Such was the case when John Kormahrems of Massapequa Park cast his ballot at Massapequa High School Tuesday morning, Nov. 6.
“It was a little confusing,” he said. “There’s no machines here.”
Though some critics charge Cuomo’s permission of affidavit ballots merely added another layer of confusion to a process already in a historical state of disarray—those voting through affidavit ballot can only weigh in on the presidential and Senate races and not local contests—for some Long Islanders still reeling from Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, it provided a means of exercising one’s constitutional rights during a moment of severe tragedy and uncertainty.
Betty Murray, a Nassau County Board of Elections poll coordinator stationed at Massapequa High School, credited the governor’s move with making it easier for affected residents to weigh in and because of it, didn’t think the storm’s aftermath has affected voter turnout at all, despite the wreckage.
“People are coming from all over to vote,” she told the Press. “We have people coming from Long Beach, Atlantic Beach. They’re voting by affidavit.”
“We have people voting from Howard Beach here,” she added.
Hell or high water couldn’t keep Matt Maysonet from voting at his polling station in the gym of Manetuck Elementary School in West Islip.
“It’s the best tool we have to exercise our democratic rights,” he said as he left the voting booths area. “Unless we’re gonna go occupy something every couple of months, like Occupy Wall Street, it’s the only tool we really have to have a voice other than complaining on the Internet—it’s something where we can actually do something and make some kind of a change.
“Unless we all grab guns and go revolt against the government, which I’m not in the mood to do anytime soon, it’s the only thing we really got,” he added.
“If you don’t vote you can’t say anything,” said Fred Tucker, 72, of Deer Park, as he walked out from casting his ballot at the Deer Park Community Center.
Stephanie Coiro of West Islip, who lives just blocks away from where houses were completely destroyed from Hurricane Sandy‘s storm surge, agreed.
“Long Islanders especially need to exercise this right after all we have faced since the hurricane so that we can have the best men and women behind us to help us remain strong and united as we rebuild our homes,” she told the Press.
As was no doubt the case across Long Island this Election Day, the amount of voter traffic at Islip Middle School Tuesday afternoon—though described as “busy” by one poll worker there—paled in comparison to the lines of residents waiting to fill their tanks at the gas station outside.
And despite all the setbacks to the process so far, stressed Nassau Board of Elections’ Savinetti, they’re nothing compared to the suffering and loss experienced by so many in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.
“We’re holding our own,” he said.