WRAPUP 1-U.S. election poses new challenge to storm-hit Northeast
* New York, New Jersey move to help voters cast ballots
* Obama expected to easily win storm-struck states
* Powerful new weather system on the way
NEW YORK/BELMAR, N.J., Nov 6 (Reuters) - Already faced with a massive cleanup and nightmarish commutes to work, thousands of U.S. voters in storm-struck New York and New Jersey may have a tough time voting on Tuesday in a cliffhanger presidential election.
Elections officials face unprecedented challenges across the U.S. Northeast, where polling stations were among the thousands of buildings damaged by superstorm Sandy eight days ago.
New York and New Jersey took measures to ease the way for residents already coping with devastating flood damage, power outages and widespread fuel shortages.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said New Yorkers would be able to vote at any polling place by presenting an affidavit. In New Jersey, those affected by Sandy will be designated as overseas voters, allowing them to cast ballots by fax or email.
``We want everyone to vote. Just because you are displaced doesn't mean you should be disenfranchised,'' Cuomo said.
The New York City Police Department said police academy probationary officers would be called in to help the force secure the city's 1,199 polling stations - 57 fewer than for the last election.
Sandy roared ashore on the Jersey coast on Oct. 29 as a rare hybrid superstorm after killing 69 people in the Caribbean and then merging with a strong North Atlantic system.
It killed at least 113 in the United States and knocked out power to millions of people while swamping seaside towns and inundating New York City's streets and subway tunnels.
While President Barack Obama was expected to win easily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the states most affected by Sandy, the storm could expose fissures in the arcane Electoral College system that decides the presidency.
One possibility is that low voter turnout in storm-ravaged states could allow Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win the popular vote even if Obama wins the state-by-state Electoral College race.
Romney and Obama are virtually tied in pre-election polls.
Some 1.4 million homes and businesses were still without power or heat in near-freezing temperatures. More than 217,000 people had registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and about $199 million in has been provided.
The exhausted region faced the prospect of a new storm - a strong ``Nor'easter'' forecast to bring frigid temperatures and more rain and wind by the middle of the week.
With the ground in coastal New Jersey towns still saturated with ocean water, officials feared the Nor'easter could flood them again. In Belmar, Lake Como and Spring Lake, officials pumped out three lakes to allow groundwater to drain into them.
``By draining the lakes, we're lowering the water table in the neighborhoods around them,'' Mayor Matt Doherty of Belmar said on Monday. ``We did this last year with Hurricane Irene and we found it made a difference.''
In New York City, most of the 15,070 schools reopened but 57 suffered structural damage, 19 lacked power and 16 were closed because they were being used as shelters, officials said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a director of housing recovery operations to assist 30,000 to 40,000 people in need of shelter.
With the region's transportation network still disrupted a week after the storm, commuters stood for an hour or more on train platforms or street corners in New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut on Monday waiting for trains and buses.
The New York City subway ran at about 80 percent of its normal service.
Motorists endured long lines at gas stations, many of which still lacked electricity or gasoline. Fuel rationing was in force in New Jersey, where some residents hired school children to stand in line with gas cans.
Wreckage from the storm was spread far and wide. On Long Island's southeastern shore, Southampton Town Trustee Bill Pell spent Monday motoring through the bays, retrieving 275-gallon home fuel tanks that had been uprooted by the storm.
``We started getting calls over the weekend about fuel tanks floating in the bay,'' said Pell, 52, a fourth-generation resident of eastern Long Island.
``While we were out retrieving fuel tanks in the bay, the bay constables were going after looters, who are now trying to access these area by sea to loot the houses.''
Crime had dropped 27 percent in New York City in the last week compared to the same period last year, the NYPD said, but burglaries were up 6 percent.