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AFTERMATH: Hurricane Sandy Or Not, The Jersey Shore Still Voted

The storm of the century ruined their homes and forced many to vote elsewhere, and even out of town. But it didn't keep too many people away from the polls

At the Jersey Shore, the Election Day routines were always simple; perhaps just a little bit hectic: Mothers and fathers dropped the kids off at school, went to work and, somehow, tried to fit voting in between.    

For years, and well into the 1990s, they went to their schools and recreation centers in Point Boro, Long Branch, Brick and elsewhere to pick candidates, using the old-fashioned machines with the tiny pull-down levers. The lever they usually pulled, just about two-thirds of the time, was for Republicans, right on down the line.

The whole thing felt so hectic then, trying to squeeze in a short visit to the rec center and not be late for work. But it all seems so easy now, because there was nothing routine about this past week, a week when a storm packing 89-mph winds changed everybody's routines for a while, maybe forever.

After Hurricane Sandy damaged so much, voting became not only a right; it was a downright challenge. It became something that, a few admitted, was easy for them to forget to do, because it didn't have the same priority it usually has.

So many were bogged down by the not-so-routine task of tearing up carpets from their water-logged houses, or fishing their cars out of newly formed lakes that formed on their streets. Even though they were picking a president, voting didn't have the same urgency, because these likely voters were too busy calling FEMA to get a damage assessment on a house that was supposed to never see the likes of this.

Yet, somehow, in between the horror and the crying, in between the painstaking task of trying to find a place to live that had heat, and trying to find a place that sold non-perishable food that could fill up their shelves, they did it, anyway.

Many of them had to go out of town to do so, because they couldn't even get home. Hurricane Sandy had sealed off some of the barrier island communities, with police standing at the points of entry, preventing them from getting even within a sniff of their homes, even if they had a boat.

Still, they did it. More than 200,000 of Ocean County's residents, 62 percent of registered voters, voted on Tuesday. The figure was 10 percent lower than it was in 2008, though nearly 20 percent higher than 2010.

Still most did, maybe more than expected. And, yes, in Ocean County, they stuck to one old routine: They largely voted Republican.

In Ocean County, they did put a little drama into it, making a sheriff's race more competitive than it had been in years, and putting Democrats in charge of Barnegat for the first time in a while.

Around noon on Election Day, voters at Barnegat High School reported little to no lines for voting. Later in the day, however, one township official reported "all of the polling places are busy," even as the lines were moving quickly. "We're having a busy but quiet election," the person said.

Brian Amento, a Long Beach Township resident, voted in Ship Bottom and went through two checkpoints to get there. He filled out provisional ballots.

"I ran into a friend at a polling place and he gave me an electric heater," Amento said.

Up and down the Jersey Shore, Hurricane Sandy tore apart boardwalks, houses and businesses, and threw them out to sea. Water pushed through doors, windows and walls, soaking up homes that were never designed to handle this kind of thing, displacing tens of thousands of people.

From Sandy Hook to Ocean City and Cape May, homes and streets went dark, and many are still in the black, more than a week later. Lines at gas stations have stretched for hours. People raced to firehouses that set up emergency generators so they could charge their computers and phones, and quickly grab some MREs to eat.

For many, more than a week later, life is finally returning to normal, even as another big storm hit the area on Monday. For many others, however, it hasn't.

Still, at firehouses in Bay Head and other Jersey Shore sites, surrounded by homes broken apart, people were walking into buildings they've never been in before, moved from their typical but flood-damaged polling places in Seaside Heights and elsewhere, exercising their constitutional rights.

On Tuesday, Monmouth County libraries were packed with voters. In Howell, 12 voting districts were packed into one location. Traffic was backed up and people were parking in the nearby Walmart to walk to the old Southard School.

Bay Head residents originally were supposed to vote in Point Boro Town Hall. But that was a routine they wouldn't change; they insisted on having voting in their own firehouse.

In Silverton, the firehouse, long a bastion of community spirit, could not serve as the usual voting place for the neighborhood. Instead, more districts were moved to Silver Bay Elementary and Hooper Avenue Elementary. By all accounts, the lines were just as long - or longer - than they've ever been.

At places where emergency personnel have been spending days on end, sleeping in chairs while they dealt around-the-clock with fallen wires, gas fires in Mantoloking and search-and-rescues in Seaside Heights, people were filling out paper ballots, taking as much time as they needed to take.

In some cases, the process was as arduous as it was when they go to the MVC to get a driver's license. But they did it, even though many of them still don't have a roof over the head, and maybe didn't even have a place to go after they were done. And maybe they won't have one for a while.

Amento treated voting as though it was some sort of oasis. His house is OK, but he had two feet of water.

"When I got there, they gave me a case of water and some apples," he said. "It was very cool and very well organized."

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