In a concession to the wreckage that Superstorm Sandy has wrought downstate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is allowing New Yorkers to go outside their designated polling places in order to vote on Tuesday.
"We want everyone to vote. Just because you are displaced doesn't mean you should be disenfranchised," Cuomo said in announcing that he is signing an executive order allowing affidavit voting.
In affidavit voting, also known as provisional voting, people sign a document confirming they are registered to vote without having to be on a particular polling place's list of voters.
So if a resident of, say, the devastated neighborhood of Breezy Point is supposed to vote in a nearby building that is not usable, that person can go to another spot -- even if it's in another election district.
The bad news: That person might not be able to vote in localized races -- from state Senate or Assembly up to congressional candidates -- if their new polling place is outside their district.
The decision to allow affidavit voting came as activists and good-government groups raised the prospect that people in neighborhoods ravaged by Superstorm Sandy could lose their vote because polling locations were destroyed or rendered unusable in the storm's wake. Some warned they would sue.
The state might be able to defend such a suit, given the devastation. But even if legal actions were filed, the order for provisional voting could provide a better defense.
Activists were pleased by the decision, which they say will help ensure that more New Yorkers are able to vote on Election Day.
"The governor has acted judiciously in the best interests of the voters," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in an email. " ... In their darkest hour, New Yorkers can trust that over 200 years of democracy will not be undone by a single weather event, no matter how disastrous."
The push for provisional voting began last weekend as watchdogs and reform groups sent Cuomo a letter urging the move. "We understand that this is a departure from normal procedures, but extraordinary circumstances call for bold action," the request read in part.
The loss of legislative and other "down-ballot" votes, however, is likely to add another element of uncertainty some tight races -- especially in compact New York City districts.
"If you vote in a different Assembly district, your vote will not count," Cuomo said. "If you vote in a different Senate district, your vote will not count."
At least one good-government activist views that as a real problem.
"It's a well-intentioned move, but it adds confusion to an already chaotic situation," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. "It hurts the down-ballot races."
Dadey said he would have rather seen an effort to get people to their normal polling places. "A better way would be to encourage people to get to their poll sites or to provide some transportation to get there," he said.
Cuomo, in a news conference announcing the affidavit order and other steps, said there are private groups working to transport people.
Partisan campaign volunteers typically run get-out-the-vote operations, although gas shortages and wreckage in the streets may slow those efforts in some areas.
Cuomo's order follows an earlier decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to allow provisional voting. The Garden State also is allowing people displaced by the storm to vote by email or even fax.
Election watchdogs and others questioned those forms of voting, though, contending they are ripe for abuse.
"They are hackable and they are not verifiable," Doug Kellner, a Democratic New York state election commissioner said of such electronic voting techniques.
During a conference call earlier in the day, Kellner said that Cuomo wouldn't have the authority in New York to allow email and fax voting.
Kellner also said email voting could effectively leave out those who don't use computers. "There's a serious question about the fairness for those who are on the wrong side of the digital divide," he said.
Concerns about disenfranchised voters loom especially large in contests for the narrowly divided state Senate.
In the 15th District race in Queens between incumbent Democrat Joseph Addabbo and GOP challenger Eric Ulrich, flooding and devastation are particularly bad, and several polling places are out of commission. Earlier Monday, a group of pro-Ulrich Jewish voters complained about a decision to set up an emergency polling place almost a mile from their damaged neighborhood.
"It's part of a plan to reduce Republican turnout," Richard Altabe of the Far Rockaway Jewish Alliance charged in a teleconference.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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