Though displaced by Sandy, New Jersey residents head to polls
LITTLE EGG HARBOR, N.J. — Her home had been flooded with five feet of water — and so had her regular polling place — but Tuesday was election day and Lisa Grabowski was determined to vote. So like thousands of New Jersey residents who are finding ways to get gas, food or shelter, Grabowski found a way to cast her ballot.
Grabowski, 51, brought her son Nikolas Policastro, 20, to vote for the first time in a presidential election. Their polling place was a recreational vehicle, rented by the county and parked outside a shelter.
“It’s awesome that they provided it for us,” she said. “With the storm, a lot of people are not voting and not thinking about how important it is.”
Grabowski, a Democrat, said she voted for President Obama and was pleased with his response after the storm.
“He’s doing a great job, especially as far as FEMA goes,” she said, contrasting Obama and President George W Bush’s performance after Hurricane Katrina. “I had a gentleman from FEMA at my house on Friday. That was amazing.”
The mobile voting precinct featured 15 polling stations and was run by Printelect, a firm based in New Bern, N.C., and contracted by the Board of Elections of Ocean County. This is the first time the company has been hired after a storm.
Marc St. James, 69, of Holgate, also among the evacuees, called the RV “a godsend.”
“This is an election of great importance — this is about what direction we want to country to go in,” St. James said after casting his ballot.
St. James, a retired chief executive of a holding company and a registered Republican, described himself as a fiscal conservative who would like to see the economy turn around. He said he “voted for the Republican Party and for Mr. [Mitt] Romney as a businessman. Can he do it in a polarized society? I don’t know. Mr. Obama did try and he failed.”
St. James and his wife were escorted from Holgate on Friday with their two cats, Lily and Buddy, past scores of homes flooded and destroyed. He could smell gas in the air, saw sand dunes swept into streets where they had to be plowed like snow. He watched a house float past.
Larry Cadena, 48, was the last to vote before the mobile polling place staff packed up and headed to another shelter.
Cadena, an office manager whose Little Egg Harbor home flooded, brought sons Colin, 9, and Conner, 7, who waited outside while he voted.
An Air Force veteran, Cadena said it was important to him to vote despite the state of his home. “We fought for people’s right to have this. It’s a right we have that a lot of countries don’t,” he said.
In the aftermath of Sandy, voting in New Jersey this election season required patience and, in some cases, persistence.
Jeremy Baratta, 33, who is from South Orange and was displaced by the storm, said he voted with a mail-in ballot at the county clerk’s office Monday, but only after a nearly two-day ordeal that included a trip to a judge Monday to rectify an error in a state database that would have prevented him from voting. Baratta first tried to vote Sunday — New Jersey allowed for early voting at country clerks’ offices after the storm — only to learn of the problem with the database.
“It should be easier to vote,” he said. Baratta, who is now staying at a shelter in Newark, agreed with the state’s efforts to make voting easier for residents displaced by the storm, but said clerks’ offices should have been open longer and taken ballots earlier. He encountered waits as long as two hours on Sunday.
In Point Pleasant, voters from four different polling places were directed to the Point Pleasant Municipal Building. New Jersey National Guard trucks were still parked out front, and many voters ran into neighbors as they arrived, swapping stories about flooding and how they were doing now.
Pat Hulffish, 65, of Point Pleasant had been relocated here from another part of town, where her house flooded.
“These are the only shoes I have left,” she said. “They’re almost as bad off as our house.”
Hulffish, a former clerk in another New Jersey town, had come to cast a ballot and said she was impressed by how poll workers handled the confusion and tried to help relocated voters and voters who live in neighboring towns.
“Presidential elections are always crazy,” she said, “but the staff here has to deal with four towns. I didn’t see anyone in the right line. But we’re so used to inconvenience now, that’s nothing.”