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Logistical problems loom over election Tuesday

How will areas like these vote on Tuesday?

How will areas like these vote on Tuesday? Remember New Orleans... (Credit: John Roca)

Beyond commanding the public conversation, the Sandy disaster has several local election board officials worried how well they can conduct an election under conditions expected to fall far short of normal when the polls open Tuesday.

In Nassau for example, 68 designated polling places fall within hard-hit flood zones — as do 65 in NYC locations such as Coney Island and the Rockaways. Damage to polling sites will need to be assessed, to determine if they can be opened, or must be relocated, election officials said. Given the widespread destruction, many places may not have electricity yet.

Also, the usual full deployment of police officers for election duty may clash with continuing burdens because of Sandy. In addition, there are questions about public transportation to polling sites, electronic records stored in blacked-out buildings, and still-incomplete training of poll workers, officials said. Election boards around the region were forced to cancel poll-worker training on Monday and Tuesday.

Even as it is overshadowed, however, campaigning will resume, if only with an altered mood — as it did in New York after Sept. 11, 2001, and in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005.

While President Barack Obama projected his public presence through official crisis statements from the White House, challenger Mitt Romney was none-too-subtly holding a "storm-relief event" in Ohio on the very spot where a campaign rally had been scheduled. And expensive TV commercials will keep running, with the necessary fundraising and time-buys largely done in advance.

Longer-term, big public-policy questions flow from Sandy's devastation. The public clash between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford over evacuation orders touches a nerve regionwide about why some people were inclined to defy authorities' directions to leave their homes.

There is also the matter of climate trends and preparation, broached by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in news interviews this week. He spoke of "the new reality" in which downstate New York, unaccustomed to coastal flooding, now experiences it — and the challenge of rebuilding to adapt.

Shorter-term, Michael Tobman, a consultant for several area campaigns, said of Tuesday's election: "Safety is first and foremost. If you are . . . running for office, and you have reason to be speaking to neighbors about public safety issues, the time is not entirely lost. But this literally is an act of God."
 

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