Superstorm causes election stumbles, but not falls

Confusion reigned in many parts of New York and New Jersey over the past few days, as polling stations were moved.

Voters at Ahavath Torah synagogue in Englewood, NJ 370 (photo credit: AMY SPIRO)
Voters at Ahavath Torah synagogue in Englewood, NJ 370
(photo credit: AMY SPIRO)
TEANECK, New Jersey – Campaign signs and posters littered the streets of Bergen County, New Jersey, tossed there not by angry supporters of the opponent but instead by a howling storm – Hurricane Sandy, which hit the area last week, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
Confusion reigned in many parts of New York and New Jersey over the past few days, as polling stations were moved due to damage or power outages, and voters scrambled to stay up to date on where to go.
The governors of both New York and New Jersey said voters could cast provisional ballots anywhere within the state – not just within their district – on Election Day. But such measures only allow for voters to select candidates in the presidential race between US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and statewide races for governor or senator, but not in congressional or local elections.
In addition, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie instituted measures to allow email and fax voting for residents affected by the storm, a measure usually only extended to overseas voters. Early in-person voting was also allowed in New Jersey on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Within New York City, more than 60 polling locations were relocated, in addition to 40 others across the state. New Jersey had to move hundreds of polling stations to new buildings, 152 of them within Bergen County alone. The county disseminated information online, and made repeated phone calls to homes on Monday with the updated list. As of Tuesday morning, the state’s gas and utility company reported 272,700 customers still without power. Also Tuesday morning, ConEd – the energy company that provides power to New York City – said they still had approximately 118,000 customers without power.
At one provisional polling station in Teaneck, seven of the town’s districts – instead of the usual one or two – were asked to report to one building, creating more uncertainty as to the correct room and booth voters should head to. Voting station changes were also posted around town at local coffee shops and supermarkets, but some residents remained confused.
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“The person on the phone was speaking very fast,” said one Teaneck voter, who asked to remain anonymous and who has yet to have her Internet restored since the storm.
“It was very difficult to understand. I would have liked to see more personnel outside,” she added, standing outside the city’s Hawthorne Middle School, a provisional polling station, after casting her vote.
Another Teaneck resident, Bernard Suskewicz, said that “the town was very good about communicating” the polling changes, both online and over the phone.
Susan Wertentheil, a resident of Englewood, also in Bergen County, who voted at the Ahavath Torah synagogue after polling was relocated there from a senior center, said she was able to locate the new station with no problem.
Those who made it to the polls mostly said that the economy was their priority when selecting candidates.
“I would like to see the economy improve,” said the anonymous Teaneck voter. “I like Obama tremendously but I’m not that convinced that he has a grip on the economy.”
While she said that Israel was important to her, it was not an issue when voting. “I personally think Obama is very pro-Israel and what we read in the media doesn’t necessarily reflect that.”
Suskewicz agreed.
“I think Obama has been given a bad rep, especially in the Orthodox [Jewish] community,” he said. “I think he is a true friend of Israel and has Israel’s back.”
But for Suskewicz, the economy was still the number one campaign issue.
“The economy is hurting and we can’t forget the most needy among us,” he said. “The only person and the only party who’ll address that is Obama and the Democrats.”
But in Englewood, Wertentheil had a different set of priorities.
“I’m looking for somebody who’s going to be good for America and also good for Israel,” she said. “Not necessarily in that order.”