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Officials: Election Day polling sites could change due to Sandy damage

Early voters arrive at the Davenport Public Library

Early voters arrive at the Davenport Public Library before casting their ballot for the Nov. 6th election in Davenport, Iowa. (Oct. 24, 2012) Credit: AP

Elections officials are working to determine whether the more than 700 polling sites in Nassau and Suffolk counties will be operable by Election Day in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

Officials are developing contingency plans to use generators at sites that might not have electricity restored by Tuesday and to substitute alternate locations for any site that's not publicly accessible. But there are no plans to postpone voting, officials said.

Nassau Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner William Biamonte said staff are assessing the condition of the county's 376 polling sites, including 68 located in federal flood zones.

"Most likely, they had water damage," Biamonte said. "We have no way of knowing right now. We have emergency contacts but people aren't answering their phones."

Suffolk County, with 342 polling sites, is just beginning to evaluate the scope of the damage, said Jesse Garcia, Hispanic outreach coordinator to Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Wayne Rogers.

"We are determining which sites still have power and are open to receive voting machines," Garcia said.

Suffolk on Wednesday will begin delivering machines to polling sites that still have power and that did not have flood damage. Nassau hopes to begin delivery Thursday.

Flood-damaged areas in Long Beach, which has 30,000 voters and 12 polling sites, are among the biggest concerns. Suffolk is also concerned about low-lying coastal areas, Garcia said.

Most Long Island polling places are located in schools, firehouses and government buildings -- considered priority sites for power restoration. Other polling sites with lower priority include houses of worship and American Legion halls.

In a worst-case scenario, Biamonte said, some sites could use paper ballots. Suffolk elections commissioners have yet to contemplate paper ballots, Garcia said.

Despite the storm, Biamonte said, voting will go on as planned.

Garcia said his office is optimistic. "We took preparations ahead of time -- and preparation leads to optimism."

Both counties will allow residents to submit absentee ballots in person through Monday if they can provide storm-related justification. Nassau has extended hours at its Mineola office and will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Election Day.

Suffolk's Yaphank offices will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In New York City, state officials are helping coordinate the delivery of supplies to more than 1,300 polling sites, said Republican Board of Elections Commissioner J.C. Polanco.

It is unlikely that Election Day would be postponed because of Sandy.

A Congressional Research Service report commissioned in 2004 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks examined whether presidential elections could be delayed and found there is no law that provides express authority to "postpone" an election. To do so, Congress would have to override an 1845 law making Election Day the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, CRS said.

New York City rescheduled mayoral primaries scheduled for Sept. 11, 2001. And New Orleans pushed back municipal elections after Hurricane Katrina.With Celeste Hadrick and Yancey Roy


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