Voting under way Tuesday across Long Island

Long Beach Police Officer Joel Abramson casts his Long Beach Police Officer Joel Abramson casts his vote while carrying his two-year-old niece, Chloe Robertson, at the Lindell Boulevard Elementary School in Long Beach. (Nov. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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During a day when long lines -- at the polls and at gas stations -- are occupying many Long Islanders, the vote in some places is being hampered by various problems, including some with ballot scanners.

While Suffolk Board of Elections officials report no scanner problems, Nassau Democratic elections Commissioner William Biamonte said there have been a "significant amount" of ballot scanner problems across the county.

Nassau Republican Election Commissioner Louis Savinetti said the biggest problem has been malfunctions of the optical scanners used to tally votes. "About 30 percent of them are failing us," he said.

That's forcing "a lot of people" to cast paper provisional ballots, which must be tallied by hand. "So it's going to be a long week to get results," Savinetti said.

Part of the reason for the trouble, Biamonte said, is heavy turnout. "It's significant," he said. "That's one of the reasons we are having so many problems."

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He said there were long lines at newly centralized polling sites in Long Beach and in communities with higher minority populations, such as Hempstead, Lakeview, Roosevelt, Uniondale and Elmont.

"When a machine goes down," Biamonte said, "people are given a special emergency ballot. There is an emergency drawer in the machine that holds 200 ballots. At the end of the night, they scan the ballots at the polling place. Nobody's ballot won't be counted."

Election officials also have had to deal with a fire and a gas leak, which sparked temporary evacuations at polling sites Tuesday morning, Savinetti said.

A small fire at Lindell Elementary School in Long Beach forced an evacuation of less than an hour, he said. The cause was uncertain, but the fire was quickly controlled. And a gas leak at the Childs School in Floral Park forced voters and workers to leave for less than an hour.

The problems emerged as long -- lines of drivers waited for gasoline and lines of residents queued up to cast votes.

Residents of Nassau and Suffolk showing resilience and perseverance across an Island battered by superstorm Sandy, hit the polls.

Voters waited in a long line Tuesday afternoon at a makeshift polling place at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview that snaked through several rooms and out the door. The word "vote" with arrows was drawn on dry erase boards pointing the way.

Many said they didn't mind the wait, which was about 20 minutes Tuesday afternoon, and joked to each other that precious fuel could also be found at the end of the line.

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"This is the time of lines," Iva Kravitz, 65, of Plainview, said.

A man leaving a makeshift polling place at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Seaford on Tuesday morning said, "Voting is important. I vote for everyone from the dogcatcher up to the president. Every race is important."

Mercedes Muller, a teacher from Elmont who voted at the Elmont Memorial Library Theatre, where a power outage briefly disrupted the democratic process, said: "If I didn't have any gas, I was going to walk to the polls . . . People died so we can vote."

Whether the line was long and wandering or short and to the point depended, for many, on where you were. That also made it sort of like gas lines.

That is, it was hit or miss.

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For some, the wait to vote -- like the wait to buy gasoline -- was quick and painless.

Seaford resident Liz Cook, 38, who cast her vote at St. James Church along with her husband, Tom, 40, said she found the lines "reasonable," noting: "I thought it'd be worse."

Normally, the two would vote at Seaman Neck School.

However, storm damage made that impossible -- as it did to several dozen normal polling places in Nassau and Suffolk on Tuesday.

As a result, scores of makeshift sites were in place for residents to vote. Some found that confusing; others rolled with the punches.

For instance, voters in storm-ravaged Long Beach, one of the hardest-hit South Shore communities, could not vote at West Elementary School, the Long Beach Housing Authority, City Hall or Temple Emanuel among other locales.

Instead, they are asked to vote in just two locations -- East Elementary at 456 Neptune Blvd. and Lindell Elementary at 601 Lindell Blvd.

In nearby Island Park, ravaged but oft-overlooked in the wake of the superstorm, voters who normally cast ballots in the old library building at Village Hall, are asked to vote at Sacred Heart Parish Hall at 282 Long Beach Rd.

In Oceanside, a new location was the First United Methodist Church on Davidson Street.

In Asharoken it is the Eatons Neck Firehouse.

For Fire Island residents it is the Knights of Columbus at 38 West First St. in Patchogue, or the Bay Shore Middle School at 393 Brook Ave., in Bay Shore.

Polling places opened at 6 a.m., a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an order saying voters displaced by Sandy can cast ballots at any polling station in New York State. Under that order, voters would sign affidavits that they are legally registered and vote at any open polling site, though voters who have relocated outside their local election districts may be limited to casting ballots only in the presidential and U.S. Senate elections. For instance, a Nassau resident who has relocated to Suffolk could vote for president but not in the local congressional, State Senate and State Assembly contests.

The governor called it a trade-off, saying being "displaced doesn't mean you should be disenfranchised."

However, some took it personally when they realized that voting in a different Assembly district meant they could not vote on all contested races.

Neal Rosenstein, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit government watchdog, said Cuomo's order "will mean increased participation in the face of great challenges faced by so many voters because of the storm."

Others said it could be difficult to check all provisional ballots later to ensure the validity of votes, calling to mind the 2004 presidential race in which results in Florida came down to how ballots were punched, the infamous hanging chads.

"It's a well-intentioned move, but it adds confusion to an already chaotic situation," executive director of Citizens Union Dick Dadey said. "People will show up, thinking they can vote in all the contests and they might not be able to do so."

Dadey said the expansion of provisional voting could hurt participation in congressional and legislative elections and is likely to spark lawsuits.

He also said it will put a "very labor intensive" burden on already overworked local election boards to validate affidavit ballots.

New Jersey is allowing displaced voters to cast provisional ballots in polling stations other than their regularly assigned sites. New Jersey also said it will allow voting via email, though New York election officials have dismissed the idea of changing state law to allow email voting.

"There are just too many security risks to the validity of the election," said Douglas Kellner, co-chairman of the New York State Board of Elections.

Talking generally about voting Tuesday, Cuomo said: "It's not going to be easy. But look at it this way, compared to what we've had to deal with in the past week, this is going to be a walk in the park -- going out and voting."

Joan Smernoff, 69, of Seaford, said she learned of the polling change Tuesday morning. She called the Nassau Board of Elections to confirm what she'd read, then, two granddaughters in tow, made her way to St. James Church.

Her grandchildren already had no school, due to post-Sandy power outages.

Her husband, Nick, 70, a retired teacher, joined her in the quest to vote, because, as Joan Smernoff said: "We always vote. We never miss a chance to vote."

Certainly, the dedication of voters in both counties was on display across the Island.

Weston Street in Huntington Station, which had been the site of a snaking line of residents waiting for gas on Sunday, was filled with voters' cars Tuesday morning.

Turnout was brisk at the South Huntington School District administration building on Weston Street, but waits were minimal. Most of the neighborhood still lacked power because of Sandy, but poll workers said the outage didn't appear to keep people away.

Signs for state Assembly candidates -- Joe Dujmic and Chad Lupinacci -- lined streets around the polling place.

The candidates are running to fill a vacancy left by the death of 24-year assembly member Jim Conte.

"Nice and smooth," Frances Zepp, 76, of Huntington, said while walking to her car with her husband, James.

"It's crucial to vote," Frances Zepp said, noting she and her husband spent six nights in the cold and darkness in the wake of Sandy. Zepp, who voted for Obama, said it is an obligation to vote and that if "we aren't careful, one day we could lose that right."

Marcia Ikonomopoulos also made it to the polls, but has struggled lately without power and electricity.

"I'm hostile, irate, and [peeved] that I'm still out of power," Ikonomopoulos, 67, of Huntington, said. "It hasn't been easy. We're cold, but luckily we have a fireplace . . . I realize a lot of people are worse off, but it doesn't help us. We feel neglected."

But nothing was going to stop her from getting to the ballot box.

"I take the right to vote very seriously," she said.

As the morning wore on, couples, voters young and old, and some accompanied by pets came to Huntington High School.

"You have to have a voice," said Craig Kostello, 59, of Huntington, adding that he supports Obama.

"I'm just happy they made voting available to us," Patrick Mongno, 73, of Manhasset said as he and his wife, Caroline, 70, cast their votes -- at Northport Village Hall. The Mongno's were voting in Suffolk because they were staying with their daughter-in-law in Northport, due to the power outages.

Patrick Mongno expressed disappointment that he wasn't able to cast his ballot for the local races, but that he was happy to vote for others.

"We would not have had a chance to vote" if it wasn't for the executive order, Caroline Mongno said.

One elections volunteer, Lidner Blain, said he waited in line for gas for 12 hours Monday to make sure he would be able to show up for poll work on Tuesday in Northport. Others said they walked to the polling station to conserve gas, as the shortage continues.

Michele Turchiano, 43, of Northport, was among those who walked. Turchiano, a teacher who had spinal fusion surgery Thursday, said she came out to vote because she is concerned about the future.

She said she has been without power for days and that she still voted because "I care about this country."

Blain said there has been a steady stream of voters since 6 a.m. During the last presidential election, 80 percent of Northport's registered voters came out, he said.

Wishful thinking or not, Blain said he is expecting the same turnout this year.

Email us at newstips@newsday.com if you see problems at the polls.

With Bill Bleyer, Deon J. Hampton, Lauren R. Harrison, Mackenzie Issler, Emily Ngo and Patrick Whittle

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