Hurricane Sandy could leave polling sites without power on Election Day with utility companies reporting it may take a week or more to restore widespread outages.
With the storm just beginning to hit northern New Jersey, Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin said Monday the question of whether voting will be affected by Sandy has weighed heavily on his mind.
Durkin said in a worst-case scenario where there is a widespread loss of power and flooded polling sites, the state legislature would decide what action to take.
“If there is an issue with power,” Durkin said, “it is the New Jersey Legislature that decides on the alternatives as far as what we do."
Both PSE&G and JCP&L, which provide millions of residents with electricity, report it could take seven to 10 days to restore all power outages caused by Sandy.
A larger than usual voter turnout would be expected on Tuesday, Nov. 6, Election Day, since this is a presidential election year with a tight race between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. There are also local, county and state seats up for grabs.
Decisions to move polling places or extend deadlines are often guided by the ability to communicate changes to voters.
“How do you notify people of a polling location change if mail can’t get there?” Durkin said as an example. “That’s the most important—that everyone has equal notification as far as voting goes and making sure that people are well aware of the times and the locations that polling is open."
Durkin said a rush of residents came through the clerk’s office in Newark to apply for mail-in ballots on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week—a wise move since county offices are closed Monday and could be closed again Tuesday, the deadline to apply.
Mail-in ballots can be mailed or dropped off at the Office of the Board of Elections at 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., in Newark prior to 8 p.m. on Election Day.
“Hopefully we don’t lose power,” Durkin said. “Obviously, it makes it a whole lot easier.”
There are approximately 3,000 polling sites in New Jersey, and 350 to 375 of those are in Essex County, Durkin said. Polling sites include schools, firehouses and religious institutions.
Correction: This article earlier incorrectly stated that mail-in ballots could be brought to polling sites.