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Voting Amid the Devastation From Sandy Polling Places in Hardest-Hit Areas Could Be Moved

Hurricane Sandy has a real chance of affecting turnout and ballot counting in the New York metropolitan area, where several competitive House and Senate races will be decided.

Election officials have vowed to minimize obstacles to voting in states hit by the storm. And while the effect on the presidential race is expected to be minimal in a region that overwhelmingly supports President Barack Obama, that may not be the case in Connecticut’s Senate race between Rep. Christopher Murphy (D) and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon (R). Roll Call rates the contest as a Tossup, and turnout could be key to either candidate’s success.

Three competitive House districts were also particularly hard-hit by Sandy: New York’s eastern Long Island 1st district, held by Rep. Tim Bishop (D); New York’s Staten Island-anchored 11th district, held by Rep. Michael Grimm (R); and New Jersey’s coastal and inland 3rd district, held by Rep. Jon Runyan (R).

So far it appears unlikely that the devastation will swing voters away from re-electing those incumbents, who are currently favored to win. But the parties will be keeping an eye on how each district digs out from the deadly storm and how quickly powered is restored.

Bishop is in a rematch of his 2010 race with businessman Randy Altschuler (R). The Democrat squeaked out a victory last cycle by only 593 votes. Before the storm, he was poised to win by a bit more comfortable margin this time around, boosted by a presidential year turnout.

Grimm led his Democratic challenger — an extremely weak opponent — by 18 points in a poll released Thursday by Siena College. Runyan’s race appeared more competitive earlier in the year, but national Democrats are not spending money in his district.

Even before Sandy hit the East Coast, national Democrats and Republicans were eyeing a number of competitive House races in New York and New Jersey closely. Many of the districts considered tossups a few days before the storm survived with relatively little damage.

Though Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, doesn’t have a competitive re-election race, he’s now doing double-duty, helping his Long Island-anchored district recover while guiding Democrats across the country in their races. On Thursday, Israel surveyed his hard-hit district with his constituents.

One New Jersey Democratic operative said that while some local politicians are concerned that weather-related polling location problems could affect their races, he does not anticipate the storm affecting any of the federal races on the ballot.

In any event, election supervisors throughout the Northeast are confident that the elections will proceed as scheduled Tuesday. Local officials are easing voting restrictions to help ensure as many people as possible are able to vote.

“I’d like to have the polling places powered up for next Tuesday,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Wednesday. “I would like that. I’m not yet to the point where I know whether we’re going to be able to do that or we’re not going to be able to do that.”

Gov. Dan Malloy, Christie’s Democratic counterpart in Connecticut, had a similar response at an appearance Thursday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and members of the state’s congressional delegation.

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