Sandy challenges East Coast voters

By Paul Lee

Many states along the East Coast are still recovering from the devastating afteremath of Hurricane Sandy. Considered to be one of the largest and most powerful storms to hit the Eastern Seaboard, mainstream news has been filled with photos of the destruction left behind by the storm since it hit Tuesday morning. Many parts of lower Manhattan are completely flooded, and sections of New Jersey were left completely destroyed, including Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore. In addition to the severity of the destruction, Sandy struck the country during a critical election cycle and became a part of the political discussion during the last few days of the campaign season. For some Macalester students with homes on the East Coast, Sandy has had physical and political ramifications. Andy Timm ’15, is from South Jamesport in Long Island, New York, and his family suffered damage to their yard, their basement and the first floor of their house. Due to the their proximity to the bay, Timm’s family was required to obtain flood insurance, and a majority of the recovery process is being financed out of their previous plans. Most parts of Long Island are not considered to be national emergency zones, and the various townships in Long Island have played an active role in the clean-up process. “The recovery efforts have mostly been town level government efforts,” Timm said. The hurricane also had political implications in Timm’s local race in New York’s First Congressional District. Congressman Tim Bishop who represents parts of eastern Long Island from Smithtown to Montauk Point was running for re-election as a Democrat in a heavily conservative district. Bishop was re-elected in 2010 by a margin of a third of a point (593 votes), and the Congressional race in 2012 was polling as very close, up until Sandy. Timm, who had worked on Bishop’s campaign in the past, credits the congressman’s display of leadership in post-Sandy recovery efforts as having given him the momentum he needed to win reelection. “There was a positive effect and the perception that he was doing something, that the Congressman was just doing his job,” Timm said. The political campaign was also made more difficult because the expensive ad buys towards the tail end of the season could not be shown due to widespread electricity outages. The positive local media coverage of Bishop’s statements on Sandy and his promises of recovery efforts could have helped secure his position. His Congressional website featured daily updates on the local recovery and his campaign website featured changes to polling locations. Bishop won reelection by a 4.4 percentage margin and had over 11,000 more votes over his Republican challenger, Randy Altschuler. But Sandy also had negative impacts. Peter Martin ’14, from New Jersey, had difficulty voting absentee in his home state. The postal service in New Jersey has been severely delayed because of hurricane damage and is believed to have slowed the state’s vote by mail process. “I applied for my absentee voter ballot a long time ago, I don’t remember the exact date but probably two to three weeks ago,” Martin wrote in an email. “However, my absentee ballot never came. Assuming I followed the correct steps, I believe this was a direct result of Hurricane Sandy, as I have heard similar stories from various friends around the country.” Some affected states took emergency voting measures to avoid similar problems. In New York, if voters found that their polling locations were closed because of Sandy, they were allowed to request an affidavit that would allow them to vote at the most convenient polling place. In New Jersey there was an option to vote by email, though the system was not as effective as it could have been. “I decided to apply for an emergency email vote on Monday. Email votes were supposed to only be for displaced voters, voters whose homes were destroyed by the storm, but I decided to explain my story to the county clerk anyway, in hopes of receiving some form of ballot on time,” Martin said. “However, the email I sent to the county clerk, with another voter request application scanned in the email, did not even receive a response back.” This may have been a result of the overwhelming volume of election day e-mails that the county clerks had to deal with, but is still a mishandled process. For Martin, this was a personal loss by not being able to participate in his first historic Presidential election since being eligible to vote. But some voters had very different experiences. “Everyone I know moved heaven and earth to get to a poll, any poll,” Terry Braine, a family member of Kyle Coombs ’14, wrote in an email. Braine lives in Brooklyn. There were also news reports showing that voter turnout was still high in parts of New York and New Jersey. But the full impact that Hurricane Sandy had on the election will remain difficult to discern. According to Political Science Professor Lesley Lavery, Sandy did not have enough time to significantly impact the swing states that ended up deciding the Presidential election. While President Obama was able to look presidential, and may have reaped a similar incumbent benefit like Congressman Bishop, there is not enough exit polling about Sandy to properly assess the impact that the hurricane had on the election. More relevant to this election was the deep partisan divide. While turnout was a large part of this election story, turnout in Sandy-affected states was expected to lean democratic in the first place. refresh –>