WEEKEND EDITION

Guide for the Last Minute Voter: General Election 2012

| November 6, 2012 4:29 PM

Before Hurricane Sandy pounded her community, caused her home to flood and left her in the cold without power, Diana Demarco was planning to vote in today’s election.

Now the 54-year-old woman says she’ll spend the day cleaning the storm waters from her Howard Beach home.

“You think people care?” she said of the election. “Maybe some do, but there is no electricity and no information.”

In an effort to make it easier for storm fatigued New Yorkers like Demarco to exercise their right to vote, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that he would sign an executive order allowing New Yorkers in areas devastated by the storm to cast their ballots at any polls in the state.

“We want everyone to vote. Just because you’re displaced doesn’t mean you should be disenfranchised,” Cuomo said at a press conference last night.

Besides the city, the order covers Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties.

Voters will be able to fill out affidavit ballots, which will then be mailed to the appropriate Board of Elections. However, people will only be able to vote in the national elections that are uniform across ballots, not local legislative races that will determine their districts’ representation.

The possibility that voters won’t cast ballots in their own districts for local candidates could mean the difference in some close races. For the State Senate, it could also weigh heavily into whether the Republicans keep control of the chamber.

Chung-Wha Hong, the executive director of the Immigration Coalition of New York City, said allowing people to cast affidavit ballots would give people displaced from their neighborhoods by the storm the opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

“People aren’t going to go back to the Far Rockaways to vote,” she said of one of the hardest-hit parts of the city.

But advocates are worried that there could be a series of problems at the polls today and that turnout will be depressed.

“On the bright side of the coin, I think this could open dialogue on how hard it is for us voters to exercise our right to vote,” said Ashton Stewart, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York City.

However, because it is a presidential election year and the ballot also includes important Congressional races, people may turn out to vote.

The decision to allow voters to cast affidavit ballots came after days of confusion as county election officials hustled to replace poll sites that were rendered unusable during the storm. In the city, it wasn’t until Sunday that the county Board of Elections released a list of 60 or so relocated poll sites.

Adding to the uncertainty, the Board, facing enormous pressure to coordinate the election after the storm knocked out power to two of its offices and left its Election Day plans in disarray, continued to update the list hours later.

Some poll sites were consolidated into larger sites, including in Howard Beach, where brothers Phil Landman, 58, and Elliot Landman, 57, were repairing their home, which was damaged by the storm.

After learning that their nearby poll site would be moved to the other side of the neighborhood, they said there was no way they would be voting this year.

“It’s too far away … It’s a hike from here,” said Elliot Landman, pointing out that they had no transportation to get there after their three cars were water damaged during the storm.

NEED TO KNOW WHERE TO VOTE? CALL 311 FOR POLL SITES OR TEXT “NYCVOTES” to 877-877 (SPANISH “DONDE”) • POLL SITE CHANGESPOLL SITE LOCATORVOTE411.ORGPOLL SITE MOBILE APPGOOGLE VOTER INFORMATION TOOL

STATE SENATE

With the storm overshadowing the election, it bears recalling that the entire balance of power in the Republican-led State Senate is at stake on Nov. 6. But those districts with competitive races in the city were among the hardest-hit by Sandy, and it’s anyone’s guess whether voters will turnout to cast their votes.

The election probably is the last thing on the minds of voters in the 15th State Senate District — which includes Breezy Point, Howard Beach and Far Rockaway, where homes are underwater or have been destroyed by fire.

Neither one of the two men who are the leading contenders for the seat, incumbent Democratic Sen. Joseph Addabbo and Republican challenger and Councilman Eric Ulrich, have been hitting the campaign trail hard since storm pummeled their community.

Addabbo has spent his days since the storm assisting in disaster relief across the district. His own campaign office was flooded out, and he estimates that half of the polling places in his district are under water. Meanwhile, Ulrich celebrated the birth of his baby girl last week amidst the chaos of the storm.

Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for Ulrich, said the campaign was concerned that the new poll sites “threaten to disenfranchise thosuands of voters” in Queens that were damaged by the storm.

“The Board of Elections has moved polling sites to areas that are inaccessible to many voters who are without power, public transportation, vehicles and fuel,” she said in an email.

Also in Queens, long-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky is facing a solid challenge from J.D. Kim in the 16th State Senate District. Kim, a political operative, has focused his campaign on small business. Stavisky has touted campaign finance reform as one of her main goals as well as improving the quality of life of her constituents.

The city’s other hot Senate race in the 22nd district of Brooklyn, between Republican incumbent Martin Golden and young Democratic challenger Andrew Gounardes, has also slowed down if not been completely eclipsed by the storm.

Gounardes’ spokesman Chris McCreight says that the election isn’t exactly on the forefront of anyone’s mind.

“The hurricane definitely impacted some polling sites in Gerritsen Beach and Manhattan Beach,” he said. “To what extent, nobody knows, mainly because the focus has been on the destroyed houses and the families. I don’t think too many people are thinking about the election at this point in those neighborhoods so it’s hard to say if the polling sites will be anywhere near operational by Tuesday.”

Golden couldn’t be reached for comment last week.

If there was one sign to point to that indicates the struggle for control of the State Senate is closer than anyone cares to admit, it would have to be the race for the newly created 46th district. The district snakes down around the upstate urban centers like Schenectady and Albany through rural areas and small towns — like it was designed only to reach Republican voters

Republicans currently control the Senate 32 to 29. The district was carved by Republicans to help bolster their majority and added as the 33rd district despite the protests of Democrats who said that a new district made no sense.

Most Albany insiders saw it as a hand-wrapped gift to Assemblyman George Amedore, a home builder who appeared on a reality TV show before winning his seat.

Even though the district seems to have been gerrymandered to benefit the Republican candidate, a recent Siena College Poll shows that Democrat Cecliia Tkazyk trails the popular Amedore by only three points — 44 to 47 percent. Tkazyk has received a major boost from PAC spending, which has likely helped her close the gap on Amedore.

Meanwhile, in the 55th district in Monroe County, Democrat Ted O’Brien has a major lead over Republican Assemblyman Sean Hanna of 50 to 39 percent, according to the Siena College poll. The seat is currently held by retiring Sen. James Alesi Hanna, who enjoyed a 19-point swing in the polls over just one month.

If Democrats hold on to their incumbents, those two seats could put them in the majority. Of course, that all depends on whether the Independent Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, decide to play ball. The breakaway faction of Senate Democrats have functioned as a buffer for Senate Republicans during important votes, although it appears important for them to be seen as Democrats in their districts.

Many Democrats think that the Independent Democrats would be forced to return to the fold if the Democratic Conference needed them to create a majority. After all, it would be hard for them to explain to their constituents why they were siding with the Republican Conference. But nothing is guaranteed.

Read the Gazette’s coverage of the two key state Senate races: Democrats Hope for State Senate Win In Conservative Brooklyn • Showdown at Howard Beach • Rival Candidates in State Senate Race Say They Won’t Toe Party Lines

Continue reading about the ASSEMBLYCITY COUNCIL SPECIAL ELECTIONJUDICIAL RACES on Gotham Gazette

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