“This is a Godsend,” said Marc St. James, 69, who has been sleeping on a cot in the gym of the Pinelands Regional High School since his home on Long Beach Island was damaged and officials ordered all residents off the barrier island.
He surveyed the 38-foot white Winnebago with the “VOTE HERE” banner taped to it. “Several hundred of us were worried about how we were going to vote,” said St. James, who was accompanied by his wife, Joyce. “This is an election of great importance, about which direction the people want to the country to go.”
As the polls opened in New Jersey, about 600,000 people were still without electricity. Gov. Chris Christie (R.) got power back at his residence around 6 p.m. Monday. Thousands were sleeping in emergency shelters. The National Weather Service predicted a nor’easter for Wednesday, bringing high winds and coastal floods.
To make voting as easy as possible, Christie allowed anyone displaced by the storm to apply for a ballot by e-mail or fax and to cast ballots at any precinct in the state.
It was barely controlled chaos inside the Board of Elections office in Ocean County, one of the hardest hit in the state. Until recently, workers had been sitting in darkened offices, processing mail-in ballots by flashlight. The power came back Sunday night, and on Tuesday the phones never stopped ringing. A small army of county volunteers fielded calls and stood by the fax machine and computer terminals, grabbing ballot requests from displaced voters.
“I’ve been here 25 years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” said one frazzled election clerk, who asked not to be identified. “The presidential elections are always bad, but this is unbelievable.”
The questions flooded the office all day: Where can I vote? Can I get an absentee ballot? How do I vote by e-mail?
Ocean County, a Republican stronghold of 338,000 registered voters, includes Long Beach Island, a skinny strip of land that protrudes into the Atlantic. Residents of the several towns on the island have not been allowed to return to their homes, except for a few hours to grab belongings, because its main road was destroyed and gas lines were broken, officials said.
Half of the county’s 229 polling places were inoperable because of storm damage, Board of Elections Chairman George Gilmore said, and 25 sites were powered with portable generators. Poll workers worried that some people wouldn’t have access to a ballot.
That’s where the Winnebago came in.
“We were scrambling, figuring out what to do,” Gilmore said. “We heard about this bus, and we grabbed it.”
The Winnebago is lit and heated and holds 15 voting stations, with privacy screens and counters that fold down from the wall. Voters either climbed the stairs or used a wheelchair lift.