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Sandy’s impact felt as voters sent to other polling places

Voters wait on long lines at PS 63 in Ozone Park during Election Day. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Election Day arrived in Queens despite the lingering devastation from Hurricane Sandy and the effects of the storm on voters’ ability to cast their ballots was evident across the borough.

In an attempt to make voting easier — and in some cases possible — for residents to participate in Election Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order allowing voters who were registered in a federally declared disaster county to vote on an affidavit ballot at any poll site in the state.

“Hurricane Sandy has already disrupted the lives of countless New Yorkers, but we will not let it disrupt anyone seeking to exercise the most fundamental of democratic rights: the right to vote,” the governor said the day before Election Day. “Even in times of great tragedy and suffering, New Yorkers understand that we must continue to do all that we can to maintain the integrity of our system.”

But even with Cuomo’s executive order, not everyone was happy with the way Election Day turned out. Some elected officials and community groups lashed out at the city Board of Elections for its handling of voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who ran against state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) for the 15th Senate District, said the BOE waited too long to inform residents about new or changed polling sites because of the storm.

“I think the board has once again proven that it is not fit to conduct these elections and we definitely have to come up with a better way,” said Ulrich in Rockaway Tuesday. “In some cases, people had to walk 30 or 40 blocks to their newest poll sites, some people weren’t informed of their sites and some didn’t find out until 6 p.m. last night [Monday].”

A staff member with Addabbo said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was only supplying shuttle buses for voters in the Rockaways, but the senator’s staff had recruited Francisco Funeral Home in Ozone Park, as well as neighbors, to run private cars between polling sites in Howard Beach.

According to the staff member, the effort was nonpartisan and people running cars were not interested in who the people were voting for.

The flooding and massive power outages sparked by Sandy caused many polling sites to move and, in some cases, combine with other polling sites. One site, at PS 232, at 153-23 83rd St. in Howard Beach, had to take in voters who normally cast their ballots at PS 146, at 98-01 159th Ave., and PS 207, at 159-88th St., also in Howard Beach, which sustained damage in the storm.

According to an election coordinator at the site, there was some voter confusion when they first walked in, but it was organized enough so that every ballot was cast.

“Some of these people lost everything,” said Grace D’Agostino, an election coordinator, who added that she did not see any BOE shuttle buses ferrying voters in. “Can you believe they’re out here voting?”

The election coordinator added that turnout for voters who would normally only vote at PS 232 was higher than in 2008, but turnout for voters who under regular circumstances would vote at PS 146 and 207, from Howard Beach, was much lower than in 2008.

A coordinated election effort was reported from PS 84 in Long Island City, where about 40 people were lined up just before noon. The school was closed to students because of flooding, but opened to voters at 6 a.m.

“I think the setup inside is a little congested, but everything ran smoothly,” said 35-year-old Astoria resident Damaris Diaz, who has voted at PS 84 every year.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said voting was strong at all the sites he visited, but he, too, was unhappy with the BOE’s performance, as he said too many machines were down and that he observed a lot of confusion about where people should be voting.

“Those are frustrating signs that we need the Board of Elections to correct,” he said.

Lee Fernandez, a poll coordinator at the Queens Library’s Jamaica Branch, said turnout appeared to be much greater than in the 2008 presidential election and the staff had collected hundreds of affidavit votes. She said she believed most came from displaced voters staying at the evacuation shelter at nearby York College.

Tony White, 26, said he found a new apartment after he was forced out of his Ozone Park home by flooding. He said he never thought being displaced would disrupt casting his vote.

“No, voting is voting,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to vote.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 8:09 pm, November 7, 2012
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