Officials Plan for Difficult Election Day in New Jersey After Hurricane Sandy

By Michelle Sartor

Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin discusses preparations for election day. Photo by David Cruz.

A week has passed since Hurricane Sandy hit, but the cleanup is far from over. With remaining power outages and residents recovering from devastation, the logistics of voting in the general election Tuesday is on the minds of many. Officials have come up with various plans to ensure New Jerseyans can cast their ballots.

The state is allowing voters displaced by the hurricane to vote by e-mail or fax. To take advantage of the opportunity, voters must submit a mail-in ballot application to their county clerk by e-mail or fax. If approved, voters will get a ballot from the clerk and must return the completed electronic ballot by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

“This has been an extraordinary storm that has created unthinkable destruction across our state and we know many people have questions about how and where to cast their vote in Tuesday’s election. To help alleviate pressure on polling places, we encourage voters to either use electronic voting or the extended hours at county offices to cast their vote,” Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said in a statement. “Despite the widespread damage Hurricane Sandy has caused, New Jersey is committed to working through the enormous obstacles before us to hold an open and transparent election befitting our state and the resiliency of its citizens.”

Although the e-mail and fax voting options are meant to help those severely affected by Hurricane Sandy, some New Jersey election watchdog groups object to that method because of security concerns.

Officials have announced changes to some polling locations prior to election day because of lack of power or damage. Residents should check with their local clerk, the New Jersey Division of Elections or call 1-877-NJVOTE to see if their regular polling location has been changed. Voters can also text WHERE to 877-877 to find out where to vote.

Volunteers have begun helping in the effort to clean up polling locations that were damaged in the storm.

County clerks in Bergen and Passaic counties have said they are ready for election day voting. Over the weekend, many voters lined up to submit their ballots early since county clerks’ offices throughout the state had extended hours.

In Moonachie, one of the most devastated towns in Bergen County, polling places have been moved because of damage and some residents in that area say they’re more concerned with taking care of their homes than the election. Some are also worried that older residents and others may not be able to get to the new polling locations easily.

Getting to polling locations Tuesday, or even to places to vote early, can be challenging as the gas shortage continues. Gas rationing remains in effect in northern New Jersey, which means those with license plates ending in an odd number are only permitted to purchase gas on odd-numbered days and those with plates ending in an even number can only purchase gas on even-numbered days. The rules are meant to reduce lines at gas stations, which have stretched for miles following Hurricane Sandy.

Traveling using public transportation has also proved to be challenging, especially from New Jersey to New York. NJ Transit had to suspend service Monday because of overcrowding.

One of the biggest New Jersey races in the election is between Bob Menendez and Joe Kyrillos. Both candidates have relocated their election parties because of power outages after the storm. Menendez moved his party from the Hilton in East Brunswick to the Heldirch Hotel in downtown New Brunswick. Kyrillos moved his event from the Renaissance in Woodbridge to Nanina’s in the Park in Belleville.