Sandy clean-up effort on hold as citizens are driven to vote


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The Independent US

Storm-ravaged residents in New Jersey can still cast their ballots this morning after election officials faced such a rush of electronic balloting requests from displaced residents that they were forced to extend email polling until the end of the week.

The state where Superstorm Sandy came ashore last week had earlier announced plans to allow storm-hit locals to vote by email, as long they supplemented their ballot by sending in a paper copy. But in a sign of just how many were forced to resort to electronic voting, officials were inundated with requests yesterday. The time involved in processing each electronic ballot eventually forced the state to extend its deadline for e-ballots until Friday.

The special measure was announced as parts of the north-east geared up to face another storm. Though not expected to be as severe as Sandy, the coming weather system – dubbed the "Nor'easter" by forecasters – is threatening to add to the misery of locals. In anticipation, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the closure of city parks and beaches for at least 24 hours, starting today. He also said officials would try and evacuate people from low-lying areas owing to risks of another storm surge. "We just don't need to send our first responders into the ocean to save someone who is being foolish," Mr Bloomberg said.

Meanwhile yesterday, long queues formed as voters were bussed in or drove to relocated polling centres, while elected officials attempted to ease the strain by allowing voters upended by Superstorm Sandy to cast provisional ballots wherever possible in their state.

But Sandy's lashing meant that the day was not without chaos and confusion. The New York Times reported that vote scanning machines being used for the first time at many of New York City's polling stations malfunctioned, complicating the already challenging process.

With many communities still labouring on without access to electricity, some polling stations had to take unusual steps to ensure voting went ahead. In Staten Island, which was among the worst-hit areas as the storm swept across the north-east last week, a public school set up flares at its entrance to provide light. Voting machines, meanwhile, had be to retrieved from inside the school building and installed in tents. Residents had to endure plunging temperatures to cast their ballots.

A spokesman for the New Jersey elections authority told the Associated Press that officials had worked hard to restore power to polling stations. Fewer than a hundred were said to be still without electricity, compared with as many as 800 in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

In New York, there were reports of long queues at a polling station on the Upper West Side, as officials attempted to sort local voters from those who had been displaced by Sandy. Facing a long wait, and with apparently no disabled access, people were said to be growing increasingly upset in the morning.