States Scramble to Help Displaced Residents Vote

People line up to vote in the presidential election.

People line up to vote in the presidential election.

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By BETH FOUHY and BRUCE SHIPKOWSKI, Associated Press

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — One storm-battered New Jersey county was delivering ballots to emergency shelters Monday while New York City was lining up shuttle buses to ferry people in hard-hit coastal areas to the polls. With the presidential election looming just a week after Superstorm Sandy's devastation, authorities were scrambling to make voting as manageable as possible while election watchers warned that confusion over balloting could disenfranchise residents.

Election officials in both New Jersey and New York were guardedly optimistic that power would be restored and most polling places would be open in all but the worst-hit areas for Tuesday's election. In West Virginia, officials relocated a handful of polling precincts because of continuing power outages from Superstorm Sandy.

[READ: Superstorm Sandy Creates Gas Shortage, Headaches]

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Monday allowing residents to cast a so-called "affidavit," or provisional ballot, at any polling place in the state for president and statewide office holders, an opportunity New Jersey was extending to voters as well.

"Compared to what we have had to deal with in the past week, this will be a walk in the park when it comes to voting," Cuomo said.

Affidavit or provisional ballots are counted after elected officials confirm a voter's eligibility.

Authorities were also sensitive to concerns about potential disenfranchisement and were taking steps to ensure voters were kept informed of continued problems or changes to their voting locations.

Ernie Landante, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Elections, said fewer than 100 polling places around the state were without power compared to 800 just days ago, and that the state has abandoned its earlier plan to use military trucks as makeshift polling places. Most voters will be able to cast ballots at their regular polling sites, he said.

But Landante also said the state had taken extra steps to make sure people displaced by Sandy's destruction would be able to vote, like allowing "authorized messengers" to pick up as many mail-in ballots as they request for people in shelters or away from their homes.

[PHOTOS: Cleaning Up From the Superstorm]

"We are doing everything we can in this extraordinary situation not to disenfranchise voters displaced by Sandy. Their voices and their votes will be heard no differently than anyone else's," Landante said.

But authorities abruptly switched gears on an additional directive New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office announced allowing displaced New Jersey residents to vote through email and fax.

[READ: New Jersey Gov. Christie Praises Obama, Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts]

The directive allowed voters to request and file a ballot electronically. But under pressure from voting rights advocates, officials said those voters would have to submit a paper ballot along with the electronic filing — a rule the state's military personnel and residents living overseas are required to follow as well.

Larry Norden, a voting-rights advocate at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, said the email and fax option wouldn't be viable for voters still without power.

"My biggest concern about all this is confusion. These places need to take statewide action to make sure people who have been displaced know there is some way they can vote," Norden said.

Some regions most affected by Sandy were seeking creative ways to help residents cast their ballot.

In Ocean County along the New Jersey coast, officials hired a converted camper to bring mail-in ballots to shelters in Toms River, Pemberton and Burlington Township. Some 75 people in Toms River alone took advantage of the service on Monday, officials said. The camper will either continue to serve the shelters or be converted into an emergency voting precinct on Tuesday.

"It's great. This is one less thing I have to think about," said Josephine DeFeis, who fled her home in storm-devastated Seaside Heights and cast her ballot in the camper on Monday.