In storm-battered New York area, a determination to cast votes

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 06, 2012 1:04 PM
In storm-battered New York area, a determination to cast votes

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sharon Brown was so determined to cast her vote that she returned to her flooded home the night before in order to be within walking distance of her voting precinct in the Rockaway Park neighborhood on Election Day.

"Living through that storm, watching that water come up, it really makes you think you have to vote," Brown said on a near-freezing day at a voting "supercenter" set up in an unheated tent that included eight voting precincts.

"But I'm alive, my kids are alive, I'm here to vote. That's all that matters," said Brown, 33, a nurse.

The superstorm Sandy killed at least 113 people in the United States and Canada, including 40 in New York City, when it blew through last week, flooding homes and cutting power and public transportation in much of the region. Even though many polling places also were knocked out of commission, officials said they hoped to make the voting process as easy as possible.

But at this location at the far end of the borough of Queens - one of the areas hit hardest by Sandy - voters faced numerous problems.

Voting was initially delayed for nearly an hour while poll workers struggled to get a generator working. Eventually, residents - many with stories of losing their homes in the storm, and living without power and heat for days - began filling out paper ballots in the dark.

When Brown reached the head of the voting line, she was given bad news - she had come to the wrong location. She wondered aloud whether she had enough gas in her car to get to the correct polling place and then back to Brooklyn, where she has been staying with relatives since Sandy hit.

Brown chose to fill out a ballot by affidavit, an option mandated on Monday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, that allowed her to vote for the presidential race and the statewide U.S. Senate race but not her local contests.

As others waited to vote, they talked about what they had lost in the storm and their determination to have their opinions count. Paul Ciccarello, a retired police officer who lost his home in Breezy Point - a private enclave in the Rockaways that was partially flattened by flooding and fire - said it had taken him more than an hour to get to the polling site.

"I'm 56. I've been voting in every election since I was 18 years old," he said.

Everyone agreed that the voting process required some determination in the chaos that Sandy left behind.

"I thought this place would he heated. I thought they'd have coffee and the Red Cross would be here," said Dan Dickensheid, a 61-year-old poll worker who lives nearby and has been without heat and power for a week. "I got dressed in the dark, I walked here in the dark... it's freezing."

By mid-morning, the situation had improved. A steady stream of voters was directed to tables labeled with the names of neighborhoods. Poll workers had set up a table with coffee from Dunkin' Donuts and people were waiting to see if there was truth to the rumors that federal disaster officials would be delivering portable toilets.

(Editing By Dan Burns and Bill Trott)