In anticipation of the 2012 election, the Rockaway Youth Task Force proudly registered about 350 18- to 24-year-olds from the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. But Milan Taylor, the group’s 23-year-old founder and president, doubts any of those newly registered voters will cast a ballot Tuesday. For those entering their second week stranded in the devastated Rockaways without heat or electricity, figuring out where the polling stations have been relocated to isn’t at the top of any to-do list. “We’re trying to convince people to get out and vote. We’ve printed out fliers with the new poll sites,” Taylor said. “But in reality, if you’re trying to figure out how to keep your family warm, voting might be the least of your priorities.”
Among the buildings left uninhabitable in Hurricane Sandy’s wake are would-be polling stations, particularly in the hardest-hit areas in New Jersey, Staten Island, and the Rockaways. While New Jersey’s lieutenant governor announced Monday that voters could email ballots, the New York City Board of Elections is sticking with the traditional paper method and simply redirecting people to new polling places via a constantly updating list on its website. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said late Monday that his state’s displaced voters would be allowed to cast ballots in any New York polling place.
Of the hundreds of regular polling locations throughout New York City’s five boroughs, only 60 will be up and running Tuesday, as of the DOE’s latest update.
But the DOE’s website is of little use to people without power.
That’s why groups like the League of Women Voters spent all day Monday fielding calls from people unable to get online or even get through to the DOE’s busy phone lines to find out where their stations were moved to or if they are eligible for a shuttle ride. “We are available for voters who don’t have Internet or power,” said the league’s New York City president, Ashton Stewart. “Our people power is minimal, but we’ve been keeping our four phone lines engaged all day, just letting people know where their nearest poll site is.”
Stewart said he isn’t sure how many people will end up unable to vote Tuesday. But from the number of calls he’s taken from people who haven’t received their absentee ballots, in addition to all the polling stations that will be closed, he said he’s anticipating the number of disenfranchised could be high.
He’s also expecting a long counting process and potential litigation if any of the races end up being a close call, he said.