Election Day 2012 brought a full calendar for Alberto Amador: voting, finding lunch, chatting with friends and looking for new apartments.
Amador, 69, has been living in his car for the past few days after his Ventnor apartment was destroyed by five and a half feet of floodwater due to Hurricane Sandy. But voting in this election, Amador said, was critically important to him. Due to his displacement, rather than go to his former polling place at the Ventnor Community Center, Amador cast a provisional paper ballot at an Atlantic City polling place near where he parked overnight.
“I didn’t like it, but you got to do what you got to do.” Amador said from his car, the back seat of which had suitcases and the only belongings he could salvage from his former home.
Amador’s story of displacement is common along the barrier islands and bayside communities that saw serious flooding and damage due to Sandy’s 5-foot storm surge and high winds. Those who lost homes were staying with family away from their home municipality, in Red Cross Shelters, which set up in some places mobile polling places, with friends or even living in their cars while trying to find a new place to live. And some people had to go to new polling places because their former sites had flood damage.
Because of flooding, Ventnor had to relocate two of its polling places in Ventnor Heights to the Ventnor Community Center, which was packed with five voting districts. The stoplight at the intersection of the center’s parking lot and Atlantic Avenue still is not functioning.
Long Beach Island, which has been under a mandatory evacuation since Oct. 28, relocated all of its polling places at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin.
And the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office was innundated with emailed and faxed ballots after the method was opened to displaced residents by Gov. Chris Christie after the storm struck last week.
"Some people are just hearing about it today, because of the continuous public service announcements," said Atlantic County Department of Elections office manager John Piatt.
The latest directive, according to the state website, was that the deadline for "first responders and voters displaced from their primary residence because of Hurricane Sandy" could apply to receive their ballots "by electronic means" by 5 p.m. Tuesday. They could then email or fax their ballots by 8 p.m. Tuesday. If postmarked Tuesday, the paper version of their ballot can be received by the 19th.
The changes to polling places and the extensive damage from the storm seemed to actually make residents more determined to vote, said Ventnor Heights resident Scott Fine just after he cast his ballot Tuesday morning at a bustling Ventnor Community Center. “In the aftermath of so much devastation, people seem pretty joyous to be here.”
Fine said the storm and its aftermath didn't change whom he was voting for, but he said the global-warming issue is coming to the forefront.
The storm and the immediate response from the state and federal government had a major impact on who Daniel Aponte, of Ventnor, backed for president. Aponte said he had been an undecided voter.
"I'm a registered Republican, but due to the response of President Obama, I voted for Obama," said Aponte, whose property suffered some flooding damage.
Full-time Long Beach Island residents, displaced by Sandy, cast their ballots at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin. Several residents said there had been some confusion about the initial relocated polling place, but all eventually learned that election officials had full voting machines and books of all island municipalities.
Alice Skimmons, of Surf City, has most recently been staying with family in Gaithersburg, Md., but drove to an Atlantic County motel Monday for two important events Tuesday. “I came home basically to vote and to get chemo,” Skimmons said. She went to the doctor’s office for treatment earlier in the day and then cast her ballot — as number 92 for Surf City — Tuesday afternoon. “It was very important. I have never missed any chance to vote.”
Rick Tool, also of Surf City, has been staying on the mainland since the storm as his Long Beach Island house has no heat and authorities have barred residents from living on the island until utilities are restored. Tool said he would have voted no matter where he needed to go and that the storm and its response did not affect whom he was casting ballots for.
“They made it very convenient. There was a little confusion at first,” Tool said. “Fortunately my daugher told me today to come here.”
While Barbara Cianci, 55, of Ventnor, said her polling place was not affected, Cianci's father-in-law's house in Ventnor Heights was unliveable and he was staying with family in Egg Harbor Township.
Cianci said the family knew of all the unusual options for allowing those displaced by the storm to vote in different places, but said her father-in-law, whom she did not name, wanted to vote in person.
"Someone will drive him here later today," she said.
Across the parking lot from the Ventnor Community Center, Bohdan Christian and Phil Conover worked to clear debris from Christian's flooded first floor and basement.
Christian was carrying out debris while watching the stream of voters drive past his house, which had several feet of water in it during the storm. He took a break to walk over to the center with two family members to cast their votes.
Conover, of Indian Head, Md., said he was not able to vote in the election because he was in New Jersey, helping his friend.
"I'm not making a 9-and-a-half-hour round-trip drive," he said. "Sometimes there are more important things in life than voting. I mean, everyone says one vote does count, but vote? Help a friend? What are you going to do?"
Contact Sarah Watson:
Follow Sarah Watson on Twitter @acpresssarah