News Column

Voting Is Therapeutic for Sandy Survivors

Nov. 7, 2012

Joan Andrews' Moonachie home is still flooded. It has no heat and no water. Her car is dead.

And yet, on Tuesday morning, she was front and center at a polling place a town away in Teterboro ready to cast her vote for president, a Senate seat, and a half-dozen other offices and ballot questions.

Voting is the last thing on her neighbors' minds, she said. "But it should be their No. 1 concern because it's going to affect us in the future," Andrews said with her voice slightly trembling.

Damaged homes, power outages and a gas shortage didn't keep some of North Jersey's most determined voters from reaching the polls Tuesday, a week after the region was pounded by Hurricane Sandy.

The worst storm to ever hit the state caused widespread voting problems with thousands of displaced residents complaining that they hadn't received special email and fax ballots. While the deadline to return those ballots was extended to Friday due to overwhelmed county clerks' offices, a steady trickle of displaced voters were still able to make their way to the voting booth throughout Election Day.

It was a respite in the hardest-hit communities like Moonachie and Little Ferry from the hours spent pumping out water-logged homes and navigating the byzantine world of insurance claims and federal assistance. Voting brought back a moment of normalcy back to their lives, if only for a short time.

"Everyone here is so sad and devastated and they're just glad to get out and say hello to their neighbors," said Little Ferry poll worker Amelia McNamara, a 47-year resident of the town. "I couldn't find my friends for a week, but I'm finding them here today, while they are voting."

From afar, it looked like any other Election Day in Little Ferry, except for the television news trucks parked outside of Memorial School, where all voting was consolidated. The other polling location, Washington School, still has no power.

Determined to vote

Alice Turner, 76, who has been staying with friends in West Milford, was driven back to Little Ferry on Monday just to cast her ballot. Even though her apartment suffered little damage, her car was destroyed after being submerged in floodwaters.

"I came back from West Milford and am staying in my cold apartment because I thought it was important to vote," she said.

That sentiment was felt in plenty of other Bergen and Passaic towns where 75,000 were still without power Tuesday.

Sawhorses and yellow crime tape blocked the middle of the street outside George Washington Middle School in Ridgewood because several wires still dangled from a pole into the street. But power was on inside, a welcome respite for some Ridgewood voters still without heat.

"I'm freezing in my house, so coming out here to vote is at least something to do," said Alison Hall-Goldman, a village resident.

Nicole Dunne also didn't have power in her New Milford home. But she wouldn't think of skipping her chance to vote considering her job.

"I'm a teacher, too, so I feel I should lead by example and show my students and my own children that it is an important thing to do," she said.

Todd Lewis, a teacher in the Pompton Lakes district, took a break from trying to siphon gas from his father's car into his own to cast his ballot in Wayne.

"I can't get gas on my day off because I'm an odd and it's an even day," Lewis said. "But I stopped to come vote -- you have to be there. It's your right as an American and regardless of who you want or don't want to win, you have to get out there."

Voter turnout in the upper part of Passaic County was higher than normal Tuesday morning, with lines stretching out of polling places in West Milford and Ringwood. Gas rationing had some voters in these two far-flung reaches of the county doing some planning before they cast their ballots.

"I definitely was going to make an effort to vote," said West Milford resident Jeff Harsch. "If my son can't vote by email I'm going down to NJIT [in Newark] to pick him up so he can vote."

Bergen County provided mini-bus transportation for voters from hurricane-damaged Moonachie to a polling place at the county's technical high school a short drive away in Teterboro.

One of those taking advantage was Paula Hursh, a resident of the Vanguard Trailer Park whose mobile home was damaged when a record 11.9-foot storm surge propelled by Sandy inundated the town. She never considered sitting out this election.

"I have news for you: Voting is one of the most essential things a person can do," Hursh said. "If you don't vote, you're screwed."

Source: (C) 2012 The Record, Bergen County, NJ. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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