In contrast to Florida and Ohio, two states suffering from the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy are working to ensure the maximum voter turnout tomorrow. Of course, both states suppress their voters by not holding early voting options. But New York and New Jersey, concerned about Election Day just one week after Superstorm Sandy, have made changes to their voting processes due to the storm.
New York’s efforts are more modest. In New York City, 60 polling locations have been moved to places with electricity. However, this may end up confusing rather than illuminating voters. There’s a state law to allow for an additional day of voting if under 25% of registered voters turn out, but it would be highly unlikely to see that triggered.
In New Jersey, they’re taking it a step further by allowing voting via email or fax.
Last week, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno issued directives that eased some restrictions on absentee voting and voting by mail, but the directives she issued early this morning go even further.
Any New Jersey voter displaced from their primary residence because of the storm will be considered an “overseas voter” and can apply for an absentee ballot by email or fax as late as 5 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 6. If the voter’s county clerk approves their application, the voter will receive a “waiver of secrecy” and a ballot either by email or fax, which they must return by email or fax no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day [...]
Rather than cast an email ballot, a displaced New Jersey voter can also cast a provisional ballot at any New Jersey polling place, Guadagno said today, though the ballot must be counted in the board of elections in the voter’s county of registration.
Guadagno also said that any mail-in ballots received by Nov. 19, as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 5, will be accepted.
This definitely brings in all sorts of Internet security issues, but if the alternative is to provide no voting options, I don’t see much of a choice. At least New Jersey is trying to maximize voting opportunities for their residents.
Notably, we’re hearing less about contingency plans in Pennsylvania, the only one of the three most hard-hit Sandy states where the Presidential election has even a bit of doubt to it. Mitt Romney appeared in Bucks County Sunday night, a key area for him. And yet there isn’t much coming from the (Republican) leadership in the state about how to ensure opportunities for voting amid the storm’s aftermath:
There’ve been varying reports about the number of polling stations that are affected and vague plans from elections officials as to how they’ll handle those outages come Tuesday. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has made restoring power to voting precincts a high priority behind hospitals and other critical infrastrure. The state has extended absentee ballot deadlines in many places, including Bucks County, to give voters more time. And state officials have said they don’t expect any voting problems: Voting machines apparently can run on batteries for at least a few hours, and FEMA has reportedly offered to supply generators to run voting machines.
“We’ll absolutely have all the polling stations ready for Tuesday,” a spokeswoman from PECO, the power company, said on Friday. She said they expect all customers in the Bucks County area to have their power restored by Sunday at midnight.
Fingers-crossed hopes about backup batteries and generators don’t inspire much confidence. And while absentee ballot deadlines were extended, getting an absentee ballot in Pennsylvania is pretty arduous and requires an excuse.
The Northeast is the one region of the country without a large early voting or vote by mail architecture, and this storm should really serve as a wake-up call on that.