In storm-ravaged N.Y., N.J., voters refuse to be disenfranchised

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STAFFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters drove Bob Mackie from his home on Long Beach Island, N.J., but nothing was going to stop him from voting Tuesday. The 72-year-old widower drove an hour each way to cast his ballot at a makeshift polling site for island residents, refusing to be disenfranchised by the devastation.

“A lot of people died for it, so we better exercise it,” Mr. Mackie said of the right to vote.

A week after Sandy’s ruinous march up the East Coast, thousands of displaced residents boarded shuttle buses and searched online for alternative polling places to cast their ballots. For millions who were still without power, cleaning mud out of their homes or living in shelters, voting represented a return to normalcy and an act of defiance.

West Virginia resident Barbara Bolyard has been without power since the storm, relying on a coal-fired stove for heat and eating meals served by the Red Cross at a local fire hall. But she and her three adult children still made it to their polling place in Newburg. “It’s your right; do it,” Mrs. Bolyard said she told her children.

National Guard units in West Virginia set up tents at three polling places and provided generators to help provide power to five other areas that had been buried under two feet of snow from Sandy.

Poll workers Eva Prenga (right), Roxanne Blancero (center) and Carole Sevchuk try to start an optical-scanner voting machine in the cold and dark at a polling station in a tent in the Midland Beach section of Staten Island, N.Y. on Tuesday morning. The original polling site, a school, was damaged by the storm last week. (Associated Press)

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Poll workers Eva Prenga (right), Roxanne Blancero (center) and Carole Sevchuk try ... more >

In Connecticut, where all but two of the 773 voting precincts were open, voters displaced by the storm had to travel long distances to cast ballots in their precincts.

Jody Eisemann, who lost the first floor of her Fairfield, Conn., house to flooding, came home from the New York suburbs where she is staying with her brother to vote at her local polling site. Ms. Eisemann’s neighborhood still was filled with downed trees, utility trucks and National Guard troops.

“It’s a big pain in the neck,” the 60-year old acupuncturist said.

In hard-hit New York and New Jersey, voting became an emotional mission for many.

Sarah Brewster of Long Beach, N.Y., sobbed as she emerged from her polling place in a school cafeteria. She said she had been overcome when she went inside to vote and saw the clocks all stopped at 7:27 — the time her community lost power on the evening of Oct. 29.

Voting is “part of our civic responsibility in the midst of all this crisis,” said Ms. Brewster, an employee of a nonprofit organization.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, signed directives allowing displaced residents of their states to cast provisional ballots at any polling site. Provisional ballots are counted once a voter’s eligibility is confirmed.

After voting near his home in Mount Kisco, a New York City suburb, Mr. Cuomo told reporters it was essential to make balloting easier for those affected by storm.

“A lot of people are not at their home polling place. They’ve been displaced. They’re staying with friends or their parents. We have first responders and volunteers who are not in their normal polling place, a lot of people from upstate who are helping in downstate New York,” Mr. Cuomo said.

New Jersey also offered displaced residents the option of requesting a ballot via email and fax — the same procedure followed by the state’s overseas residents and military personnel. County election offices were quickly swamped with requests for email ballots, prompting officials to announce they would give voters until Friday to cast ballots.

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