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Election Officials Scramble in Storm's Aftermath

Thursday, 1 Nov 2012 | 4:13 PM ET

The election of 2012 will be held on Tuesday, come hell or high water.

Jewel Samad | AFP | Getty Images

It's just that local election officials didn't think that expression would come so literally true in the days leading up to this presidential Election Day.

Local election officials in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut told CNBC they are scrambling now to evaluate the physical condition of polling places and find alternate locations for voters to go Tuesday in the hardest hit areas. But they say the election itself is a go.

In New York State, officials have extended the application deadline for absentee ballots until Monday, Nov. 5 and ballots postmarked by that day will be counted by election officials as long as they reach their destination by Nov 19th, to allow extra transit time in the mail.

John Conklin, a spokesman for the New York state Board of Elections, said his agency is focused on delivering voting machines and making sure polling places are safe. Some polling places may have to proceed with paper ballots if they don't have power, he said, and they may decide to move other voters to nearby polling stations that have electricity. Conklin said the Board of Elections is putting together a plan to run newspaper ads and communicate on the web to tell voters where they should go to vote.

"We're going to have an election on Tuesday," he said. "With, hopefully, just minor inconveniences." (Read More: Scenes From Hurricane Sandy)

Officials expressed a similar attitude on Long Island. "Our plan is to be good to go on Tuesday," said Wayne Rogers, the Republican Board of Election commissioner in Suffolk County, NY, on hard-hit Long Island. "That's the plan."

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Rogers said phone service is still out in much of the county, forcing the Board of Elections to send people out on foot to survey each of the county's polling places to make sure they are intact and have power. He said he is particularly concerned about those polling places south of Montauk Highway, which are closest to the ocean.

"We've never had this kind of destruction," he said. "We don't know who's where." (Read More: Trains Roll, but Northeast Struggles Back from Sandy.)

Still, he said voters — even those who've lost their homes or are living in shelters — will be able to cast their ballots as planned on Tuesday. The county plans to open new polling places, or reroute voters to alternate locations from each polling place that is unusable.

And he said, the Long Island Power Authority has assured the Board of Elections that it will prioritize restoring power to polling places before Election Day.

In Connecticut, the Secretary of State's office says one key issue still to be determined is whether schools that planned to be closed on Election Day to allow access for voters will now be opened. "Because the schools have been closed due to the hurricane, school officials are now considering whether to have schools remain open," said Av Harris, the communications director for the Secretary of State. "We would prefer them not to have school, or possibly remain open only for half the day."

In hard hit Ocean County, N.J., officials have set up two locations for displaced people to vote by absentee ballot: 101 Hooper Ave., at the Ocean City Administration Building in Toms River, and at 179 S. Main Street in Stafford Township. They will have extended voting hours this weekend from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m on Saturday and Sunday.

"A lot of people have been evacuated to different locations, and if they can't make it back Tuesday, we're certainly encouraging everyone to vote," said Jason Varano, an assistant supervisor at the county Board of Elections. "Tuesday is an important presidential election, and we want everyone to have access to the ballot." (Read More: Obama Tours NJ Storm Damage as Campaign Resumes.)

Vote of Confidence?
Discussing how people in some of the towns devastated by the storm are going to vote, with CNBC's Eamon Javers.

Further south in Cape May County, county registrar Michael Kennedy said only two of the polling places in his area were submerged underwater during the worst of the story. If those facilities are not up and running by Tuesday, he said, they will relocate voters to another polling place — no more than a quarter mile away.

Historically, the United States has never postponed a presidential election — even during World War II and the Civil War. Presidential Election Day is set by Congress, and it would likely take a new law passed in Washington to move it — and Congress would likely have to change it for the whole country at the same time, not just certain affected states.

That means this election is coming, whether the local officials are completely prepared or not. So how's that going to affect turnout in the hardest hit areas next week? Wayne Rogers in Suffolk County said he doesn't know: "We probably won't find that out until after election day."

—By CNBC's Eamon Javers
—CNBC's Theresa DeLuca contributed to this article.

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