With widespread Election Day problems expected in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Monday allowing displaced voters to cast ballots at any polling site in the state.
"We want everybody to vote. We want to make it as easy as possible," Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany, where he announced the eased voting restrictions. "Even in times of great tragedy and suffering, New Yorkers understand that we must continue to do all that we can to maintain the integrity of our system."
The changes apply only to voters who were displaced by the storm in Bronx, Kings, Nassau, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties and New York City. Local elections boards will provide voters with affidavit ballots, allowing them to vote in the presidential as well as congressional, state and local races in their home districts.
The governor's move was one that good-government groups had pressed for in recent days.
"Sandy wreaked havoc on communities across New York, but the governor can make sure it doesn't wreak havoc on tomorrow's election with this action," said Neal Rosenstein of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "With so many poll site closures and changes, allowing voters to cast an affidavit ballot at any site is a vital and common-sense move."
John Conklin, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said voters will be able to walk into the nearest elections board site, fill out a ballot providing information about where they live and sign it. The ballot then will be sent to the elections board where they resided before the storm and be counted toward the races in that district, he said.
"I think there's a fair number of people who will do this, but it's difficult to know how many," Conklin said.
Chris Malone, a professor and chairman of the political science department at Pace University in New York City, said he doesn't think Cuomo's executive order will create significant problems in New York's Senate and presidential races.
"If you're talking about close state and local races, then it could have more of an effect," he said.
Asked if the changes could affect the outcome of any close races, Conklin said: "Yes, in a close race. It's possible."
Meanwhile, officials in Westchester and Rockland counties were scrambling Monday night to set up generators to power voting machines and lighting at a handful of polling sites that likely will be without electricity Tuesday, more than a week after Sandy hit.
Officials say that no matter what, people will be able to cast ballots in Tuesday's election.
GENERATORS TO LIGHT UP 5 ROCKLAND POLL SITES
Only five sites will be without power on Tuesday in Rockland County -- Link Elementary School, Upper Nyack Elementary, Liberty Elementary in Valley Cottage, St. Anne's School in Nyack and the Esplanade Palisades -- but county officials say they have gas-powered generators and lighting provided by the Army National Guard to accommodate the voters.
"Everything is going to be as normal as possible, given the circumstances," said county Election Commissioner Louis Babcock.
The polling station at Wood Glenn Elementary School at 121 Philips Hill Rd. in New City -- which includes election districts 40, 53, 60 and 69 -- has been moved to New City Elementary School, located at 60 Crestwood Dr., Babcock said.
Elections officials have placed signs at the school and used reverse 911 calls to let voters know about the changes.
A DOZEN WESTCHESTER SITES WITHOUT POWER STILL
In Westchester County, election officials said about 12 of the county's 380 polling places were still in the dark, but they were working to restore power to those sites and had generators available if the job isn't finished in time.
Westchester officials said none of the county's polling sites would be relocated for the election.
"If there is a polling site that is changed before Tuesday, there will be people there telling voters where to go," said Donna Greene, a county spokeswoman. "We're pretty confident that we won't have any problems with the polling sites."
Town and village clerks said Monday they were getting conflicting information from Westchester elections officials.
Jill Simon-Shapiro, clerk for the Town of New Castle, waited until well after 3 p.m. for the county board of elections to decide whether they would provide generators for the Millwood Firehouse No. 2 on Route 134 (Croton Dam Road) or move voting to the main Millwood Firehouse 15 minutes away, where the town's west end residents used to vote.
She said she was not told when the generators would arrive, just that it would be sometime during the night and before poll sitters arrived at the firehouse at 5:30 a.m. so the polls could open at 6.
A clerk at the Briarcliff Manor Youth Center, another polling place that had no power, said residents had told staff that the Board of Elections had decided to bring in generators rather than move voting, though no one had been told when that would happen.
POLLING SITES MOVED IN ORANGE
Orange County elections officials had to change three polling sites affected by the storm. Voters who normally go to Pine Tree Elementary School in Monroe now will vote at the Monroe Senior Center, those who vote at Sanfordville Elementary School in Warwick will go to Warwick Middle School and voters who regularly vote at the Greenwood Lake Elks Lodge in Warwick will cast their ballots at the Greenwood Lake Fire Department station house.
Election officials in Dutchess, Putnam and Ulster counties said all of the polling stations affected by the storm have power and that they don't expect any problems for voters when they head to the polls Tuesday.
"All the polling stations have power and we're ready to go," said Putnam County Election Commissioner Tony Scannpieco.
State officials have taken other steps to ensure that storm-affected voters are able to cast ballots Tuesday, including extending the time period for accepting absentee ballots, which now must be postmarked by Nov. 5. The deadline had been Oct. 30. Local elections boards will be required to accept absentee ballots up to 13 days after the election.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties. Polls in Dutchess County will be open from noon to 9 p.m. For a list of polling stations, visit:
Westchester County: http://citizenparticipation.westchestergov.com/
Rockland County: http://www.co.rockland.ny.us/BOE/default.htm
Orange County: http://www.orangecountygov.com/content/124/126/default.aspx
Putnam County: http://www.putnamcountyny.com/boe/index.htm
Ulster County: http://www.co.ulster.ny.us/elections/
Dutchess County: http://www.co.dutchess.ny.us/CountyGov/Departments/BOE/