Sandy “Rocks the Vote” Like a Hurricane

In an election filled with new obstacles, such as mandatory photo identification, New Jersey and the surrounding areas were inundated with their own unforeseen trials. While many voters around the nation battled long lines to cast their ballots in the 2012 presidential election, citizens in areas heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy struggled to get their voices heard and their votes cast.

More than 1 million New Jersey residents and businesses were still without power on Election Day, eight days after Sandy made landfall. With polling stations among the thousands of buildings damaged, voting in storm-ravaged states involved unparalleled challenges.

Voters in the tri-state area faced confusion as temporary polling places and alternative voting methods were being established in the wake of the storm. While some poll sites lacked power to run voting machines, others were flooded, damaged, or were located in buildings being used as refuge for displaced storm victims.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took his normal down-to-business approach and ordered election authorities to offer displaced residents the option of requesting a ballot electronically ; the same procedure followed by the state’s overseas and military residents. This directive is also intended to come to the aid of displaced first responders, whose tireless recovery efforts away from home have made voting a challenge.

“Listen, go vote tomorrow,” Christie said on the Monday before Election Day. “There’s only 100 polling places across the state that had to be moved or changed. For most people in New Jersey who are watching or listening, you go to your normal polling place.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took a similar standpoint. “We want everyone to vote. Just because you’re displaced doesn’t mean you should be disenfranchised. I’m signing an executive order today that will allow affidavit voting, where you can go to any polling place, sign an affidavit, and you can vote in that polling place.” Cuomo said. “And your vote will count.”

Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno also stepped up to ensure New Jersey voters that their voting rights were of top priority. “Despite the devastation that surrounds many of our citizens, we are committed to upholding and honoring our nation’s ideals by having an open and transparent election,” she said. The lieutenant governor, who also serves as Secretary of State and is responsible for overseeing the Division of Elections, explained that even though the extent of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction is impossible to fully describe, the government was working diligently to make voting as easy as possible considering the devastating circumstances.

In order to alleviate pressure on polling places, voters were given helpful alternatives. Some of those options included electronic voting, extended hours at county offices, and mail-in voting. Although considered by some to be an arduous process, mail-in-voting in New Jersey requires residents to apply for a ballot through their county clerk’s office and to return that completed ballot to their county board of elections. Following the storm, a record number of citizens took advantage of the program.

With the intention of ensuring all voters would be accommodated, county elections officials were also directed to print a sufficient number of provisional and emergency ballots for those in need. Although, many county clerks were overwhelmed by an unanticipated number of electronic ballot applications, causing some residents to receive error messages or endless busy signals.

Even though there were numerous alternative measures available such as electronic voting and written ballots, some Americans who attempted to vote in-person throughout the country stood endless hours waiting to cast their vote. While New Jersey election rules don’t normally allow early voting, voters in the state came out in droves and even with being forced to change voting site locations, most voters did not wait long to cast their vote.

According to the Monmouth County Clerk’s Office, the voter turnout in Monmouth County consisted of 248,046 voters, making up 58.28 percent of total registered voters in the county. Of that total, 23,298 (5.47 percent) were mailed-in ballots.

Despite national polls, Mitt Romney was the clear winner in Monmouth County with a total of 140,544 votes or 52.10 percent. Obama trailed not too far behind with 125,565 votes or 46.55 percent and Gary Johnson, as a member of the Libertarian party, received 2,078 votes or .77 percent of the total votes, the website explained. Romney’s win in Monmouth County is notable in a state that has not only lead democratically in the past five elections, but is a state in which Obama lead in 2008 with 56.8 percent of the vote.

In the face of the mayhem Sandy left behind, Election Day turnout was heavy. Voting represented a sign of normalcy amid the devastation and inspired many voters from storm-ravaged areas to express relief that they were even able to vote at all. However, for some of those whose lives were uprooted by the storm, voting was the least of their worries.

Victor Nazario, a senior, history and political science major, took a different approach. Nazario, a firsttime voter, explained that because he lives in Bergen County, an area of Northern New Jersey where power was out for significant period of time, he was forced to drive to his county clerk’s office several towns away just so he could do his part and vote in this election.

“I feel accomplished that I’m participating in the democratic process. It’s a fundamental part of being a citizen of this country,” he said. Nazario added, “As the Greek Senate President here at Monmouth, I know what it feels like to be elected to a leadership position and I feel that New Jersey’s government did an excellent job of handling the storm as far as preparation and prevention.”

He explained that with the election aside, New Jersey must now look towards helping those who need the most. “We need to rebuild parts of the shore that were forever scarred by the effects of nature,” Nazario said.

Dr. Joseph Patten, Chair of the Political Science and Sociology Department, also felt that New Jersey’s government was successful and proactive dealing with a devastating situation so close to Election Day. “By allowing New Jerseyans to vote early electronically or through their county clerk’s office, Governor Chris Christie took swift emergency action to ensure that New Jersey’s vote would be heard,” Patten explained.

Patten encouraged the University’s voting population by sending out a campus-wide e-mail prior to Election Day. The e-mail explained how to find locations of local polling places via text and gave detailed information about polling stations and their hours of operation.

For those whom were displaced as a result of the Hurricane, and could not reach a polling place, Patten clarified that votes could be cast through email or by fax through requesting a mail in ballot. “However, several Monmouth students and faculty expressed trouble voting in this year’s election process,” Patten said. He believes that most of their struggle voting was most likely a result of a lack of communication in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. As county clerk’s offices across the East Coast became overwhelmed with the amount of phone calls and questions they were receiving, Patten explained that many voters were unsuccessful in getting the materials they needed in order to vote on time.

Guadagno expressed, in a directive issued on Election Day, “It has become apparent that the county clerks are receiving applications at a rate that outpaces their capacity to process them without an extension of the current schedule.”

Despite New Jersey residents stepping outside of the hardships faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in an effort to cast their vote, “New Jersey is a non-swing state that is primarily democratic and tends to lean that way politically, an advantage for President Obama.”

Patten said, “That is one of the major criticisms of the Electoral College, some states unfortunately do get largely ignored while other ‘swing’ states are likely to be focused on almost entirely.”

After visiting a community center in Brigantine, New Jersey, which had been converted into a shelter, the President reassured and consoled evacuees, “The entire country has been watching what’s been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit. You guys are in my thoughts and prayers. We are going to be here for the long haul.”

He later repeated that message of unity to all of those affected by the storm by promising, “We are here for you, and we will not forget, we will follow up to make sure that you get all of the help that you need, until you have rebuilt.”

Christie had been a strong supporter of Mitt Romney through the presidential campaign. Christie drew criticism, however, after the he praised Obama’s handling of recovery efforts following the path of destruction left by Hurricane Sandy.

Sandy has made the already struggling economy more difficult. Despite the governor’s political affiliation, New Jersey has voted Democratic in the past five elections and polls conducted prior to Election Day suggested that New Jersey would most likely lean towards President Obama this year as well and it did.”

During his victory speech at Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick after the election, newly elected U.S. Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey spoke extensively about New Jersey’s efforts to rebound from the storm.

Menendez said, “Tonight, before we celebrate what is going to be a great election result, let’s first celebrate our greatest victory and that is that New Jerseyans have survived an unprecedented storm. We are battered but not broken, damaged but with a stronger sense of community than ever before.”

As he celebrated his election victory, he reminded listeners to “not forget the thousands of New Jerseyans who are still without power and need help, families who have lost loved ones, others who have lost everything they worked for all of their lives, their possessions, their property.” A bipartisan effort on his part, Menendez gave credit to not only the President for having a strong federal reaction, but also to Republican Governor Chris Christie for his rapid response in New Jersey.

Christie offered a message of hope and hardship to those whose lives were uprooted by Sandy.

Concerned more with rebuilding New Jersey and ensuring the safety and well-being of its citizens, and respectfully so, Christie said, “We will get to our national election when we get to it.”