Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
At 6:45 a.m. the line was already a dozen deep as the polling super site in Far Rockaway, Queens, struggled to open. The gas for the electric generators, lights and six port-a-johns provided by FEMA had been stolen overnight. Poll workers fumbled with flashlights to set up the polling stations.
Eight voting sites were consolidated under one white tent on a mud-caked basketball court at P.S. 180 Scholars Academy in Far Rockaway. Many voters in the area are still without power or gas, sleeping in cold, damaged apartments.
But piles of sand in the road, and a long commute didn’t stop Celestine McLain from casting her vote on Election Day. The 70-year old lives in Dayton Towers on Shore Front Parkway, which is still dark, but she’s staying at a friend’s house in Brooklyn.
“Martin Luther King and all those other people that fought for me to vote. Even if I had to walk, I’m going to vote,” said McLain, who car-pooled to the site.
Sharon Brown, 33, lives in the area and is staying at a friend’s apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Her home and car were destroyed during Sandy, but she borrowed a car and drove back to Far Rockaway at 2 a.m. so she could be one of the first to cast a ballot.
“To actually sit down and look out your window and see the water coming and see you lost everything and see the president respond how quickly he did, you have to get out here and vote, you have to,” she said.
Those waiting to vote were finally able to cast a ballot at around 7 a.m., an hour late. Around noon, the site got a delivery of port-a-johns, water and MREs for poll workers, the same food given to victims of the hurricane. Fox News allowed workers to use a television light, and workers pulled down corners of the tent to allow light to stream in.
Other voters came from nearby Breezy Point, Manhattan and even Norwalk, Conn., to cast their ballot. One National Gaurd worker who was seven hours from his upstate home took advantage of the affidavit ballot.
“They set this up, so I’m going to take advantage of it,” said Bob Crary, who was working on a nearby sub-station.
Although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order to allow affidavit voting meant residents of the state could vote at any polling site, those who did not vote at their local site could not cast a vote for local offices.
But Crary said he didn't mind missing out on voting in local elections, “It’s more important getting the lights back on,” he said.
Raul Romero, 60, lives across the street. During the day, he’s been hauling buckets of ocean water to his home so he can flush the toilet. Even though he lacks power, he said he tried calling 311 Monday night to find his polling station, but couldn’t get through. Tuesday morning he stumbled onto the site.
“I didn’t even know about the voting. I was driving to FEMA right now and when I saw the tents I pulled over to see if this was the voting, and I was tickled pink. I was tickled pink that I could do my duty,” he said.