Staten Island residents were guided to a polling site in the dark this morning by flares as problems mounted for New York voters across the city struggling with power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy.
With hundreds of temporary polling places in operation across the battered East Coast, voters in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island lined in pitch black to cast their ballots in outdoor tents as police officers stood guard.
In Rockaway Park in Queens, voting was reportedly delayed because of a loss of power and in New Jersey tens of thousands of e-mail voters were thrown into panic after they were told they had to send in hard copies of their ballots as well – with no exceptions.
Across the East Coast problems were compounded by near freezing temperatures early this morning at temporary polling stations and New York’s MTA said it was providing free ‘voter shuttles’ today for people in the Rockaways, Staten Island and Coney Island whose normal polling stations were destroyed or damaged in last week’s storm.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged city residents to check the Board of Elections website to discover any polling changes as government officials struggled to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can.
“Vote. It is our most precious right,” said Michael Bloomberg on election eve.
However, with the myriad of problems presenting residents with barriers to vote, some are simply not bothering.
“We’ve got too many concerns that go beyond the national scene,” said Staten Island resident Paul Hoppe – who lost his home in last week’s massive storm which claimed over 100 lives across the nation.
Across New Jersey almost 100 polling stations across the state are without power as the Lieutenant Governor performed a U-turn last night and said that the state does need email voters to submit hard copies of their ballots by mail immediately.
The move which allowed no exceptions for victims of Sandy caused massive confusion, as earlier in the day Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno had told county-level officials to accept e-mailed ballots until 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday.
However, the security risks inherent in voting remotely was deemed a danger that could compromise the result and the Lt. Gov was forced to issue new advice to beleaguered voters across the state who are keen to vote.
The confusing about-turn was designed to relieve the damage caused by flooding and winds from Hurricane Sandy, which has made hundred of polling locations unavailable nationwide.
However, voting experts were unanimous that her advice was incorrect: “You must have a paper ballot backup,” said Penny Venetis, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark.
“Voters’ e-mails can be modified or interfered with – without their knowledge – coming into the county election computers,” said Andrew Appel to NJ.Com, a computer science professor at Princeton University.
“E-mail voting is completely untrustworthy and insecure unless it’s backed up by paper ballots that a voter signs and sends in.”
Larry Norden, a voting-rights advocate for New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the email option wouldn’t be viable for voters still without power.
“My biggest concern about all this is confusion. These places need to take statewide action to make sure people who have been displaced know there is some way they can vote,” said Larry Norden.
Meanwhile, problems for voters not affected by Sandy began to mount during the early morning.
Voting machine problems have caused delays and long lines at one polling station in a heavily populated Indianapolis suburb.
Hamilton County residents had to wait nearly 30 minutes to vote at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers because voting machines weren’t operating when that polling site opened Tuesday.
WTHR-TV reports that by the time the problem was fixed a half-hour later the school’s gym was filled with voters and the line spilled out the door.
The heavily Republican county north of Indianapolis saw other polling station problems, but those were quickly fixed.
Hamilton County Election Administrator Kathy Richardson says cards used to clear tallies from machines before voting begins were improperly programmed. Some 500 machines in about 150 polling places had to be reset once those cards were reprogrammed.
Because of the turbulent counting process and new regulations about proper ballot submissions, there is a distinct possibility that the country will not know the next president for days or weeks after they cast their votes.
A half-dozen problems are at the top of the list for political analysts, who are zoning in on new voter identification requirements and provisional ballot measures in a number of states as two legal issues.
The hurricane may play a role in any potential battle over a close popular vote, as would any machine malfunction issues that inevitably arise every election.
The final two problem areas come from a group of civilians from a subset of the Tea Party who are intent on serving as extra minders at polling stations to look out for fraud, and the onslaught of lawsuits that has already begun in Florida over the deadline for early voting.
Echoes of the mess created in Florida back in 2000 are already flashing before pundits’ eyes as the Democratic Party filed lawsuits calling for an extension of the early voting deadline because of excessive lines this weekend.
Though the early voting period officially ended on Saturday, the Democrats challenged- and were quickly rebuked by- Republican governor Rick Scott by demanding the deadline was extended.
The lawsuits were rejected, and now the focus turns solely to Tuesday.