Suffolk County election officials face the same daunting challenges besetting their Nassau counterparts as they race to prepare for Election Day on Tuesday as Long Island continues to clean up Hurricane Sandy’s destruction.
Electons officials are getting constant updates from the Long Island Power Authority about the status of polling places, which seems to change hourly. More than 500,000 of LIPA’s 1.1 million customers remained blacked out as of sundown Friday. Polling places could be moved or paper ballots could replace electronic voting machines in some cases.
“The election will happen and people will have a place to vote,” said Michael Hervey, chief operating officer of LIPA. “We’re working with the election boards in both counties. We’re meeting with them twice a day, each day, and we’re telling them exactly what we have on.”
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So far, the priority has been restoring power to schools, where many voters report to the polls, back on line as fast as possible. The same situation is true for Nassau residents as the county works with LIPA to get polling places repowered.
William Biamonte, the Democratic commissioner of the Nassau Board of Elections, told the Press that in some cases if the precincts can’t be relocated voters will rely on paper ballots, which they’ll stuff into the voting boxes at the polls.
“It’ll be like Colonial times but instead of holding candles, we’ll be holding flashlights,” Biamonte said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that in “isolated incidents” where they can’t get the polling stations powered up they’re “working on alternative measures.”
Rich Schaffer, Babylon town supervisor and Suffolk County Democratic chairman, said that if the Board of Elections has to relocate a polling place, “they’ll have people stationed at the polling place to direct them to the other place.”
He said the board of elections would prefer not to rely on paper ballots but they will do so where necessary.
“There may be one or two areas where they’ll do that,” Schaffer told the Press. “But what they will do is collect the ballots all day and they can bring them right back to Yaphank at 9 p.m. and scan them through a machine.”
And like other Long Islanders hit by the storm, the board of elections workers also felt the hurricane’s impact. One worker told the Press that the tidal surge had destroyed her Lindenhurst home where she and her family had lived for 40 years, but she was keeping a positive attitude.
“I have a lot more than I lost,” she said. “We are going to make this election happen.”