STAFFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Superstorm Sandy's floodwaters drove Bob Mackie from his home on Long Beach Island, N.J., but nothing was going to stop him from voting Tuesday. The 72-year-old widower drove an hour each way to cast his ballot at a makeshift polling site for island residents, refusing to be disenfranchised by the devastation.
"A lot of people died for it, so we better exercise it," Mackie said of the right to vote.
A week after Sandy's ruinous march up the East Coast, thousands of displaced residents boarded shuttle buses and searched online for alternative polling places to cast their ballots. For millions who were still without power, cleaning mud out of their homes or living in shelters, voting represented both a return to normalcy and an act of defiance.
West Virginia resident Barbara Bolyard has been without power since the storm, relying on a coal-fired stove for heat and eating meals served by the Red Cross at local fire hall. But she and her three adult children still made it to their polling place in Newburg. "It's your right, do it," Bolyard said she told her kids.
National Guard units in West Virginia set up tents at three polling places and provided generators to help provide power to five other areas that had been buried under 2 feet of snow from Sandy.
In Connecticut, where all but two of the 773 voting precincts were open, voters displaced by the storm had to travel long distances to cast ballots in their precincts.
Jody Eisemann, who lost the first floor of her Fairfield, Conn., house to flooding, came home from the New York suburbs where she is staying with her brother to vote at her local polling site. Eisemann's neighborhood was still filled with downed trees, utility trucks and National Guard troops.
"It's a big pain in the neck," the 60-year old acupuncturist said.
In hard-hit New York and New Jersey, voting became an emotional mission for many.
Sarah Brewster of Long Beach, N.Y., sobbed as she emerged from her polling place in a school cafeteria. She said she had been overcome when she went inside to vote and saw the clocks all stopped at 7:27 — the time her community lost power on the evening of Oct. 29.
Voting is "part of our civic responsibility in the midst of all this crisis," said Brewster, a nonprofit worker.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, both signed directives allowing displaced residents of their states to cast provisional ballots at any polling site. Provisional ballots are counted once a voter's eligibility is confirmed.
After voting near his home in Mount Kisco, a New York city suburb, Cuomo told reporters it was essential to make balloting easier for those affected by storm.
"A lot of people are not at their home polling place — they've been displaced, they're staying with friends or their parents. We have first responders and volunteers who are not in their normal polling place, a lot of people from upstate who are helping in downstate New York," Cuomo said.
New Jersey also offered displaced residents the option of requesting a ballot via email and fax — the same procedure followed by the state's overseas residents and military personnel. County election offices were quickly swamped with requests for email ballots, prompting officials to announce they would give voters until Friday to cast ballots.
"It has become apparent that the county clerks are receiving applications at a rate that outpaces their capacity to process them without an extension of the current schedule," Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is also New Jersey's secretary of state, said in a directive issued Tuesday.
Voters had to request ballots by 5 p.m. Tuesday to take advantage of the option.
In Hudson County in northern New Jersey, officials received 4,000 email ballot requests by 3 p.m.
"It's a different kind of nuts," Deputy County Clerk Janet Larwa said.
Some in New Jersey said they weren't comfortable with the email option.
Pinky Milsen, a 62-year-old retired retail worker forced from her home on Long Beach Island, drove to a polling place on the mainland to cast a ballot for President Barack Obama.
"They said you could do it on the computer, but I said no, I want to push the lever. I want to make sure Obama wins," Milsen said.
In New York City, Elections Commissioner J.C. Polanco said lines were long even in areas of the city most disrupted by Sandy. He said some voters in the Rockaways area of Queens cast ballots at a school where nine polling locations had been merged into one. Other voters in the Rockaways and one precinct in the Bronx were voting in tents powered by emergency generators.
Complicating matters further was the state's recent switch to electronic voting machines and the 2010 legislative redistricting that put many residents into new polling precincts.
"You couldn't pick a more perfect storm — a hurricane before a presidential election, a redistricting year, and new machines," Polanco said.
The efforts put a premium on creativity. At a public school in Staten Island's Midland Beach, flares were set up at an entrance to provide light, and voting machines were retrieved from the school and moved to tents where voters lined up in 29-degree temperatures.
Not everyone hurt by the storm saw voting as a priority.
New Jersey college student Cynthia Barreau was flooded out of her Toms River home and stood in a long line outside a FEMA processing center in Brick Township.
"I'm thinking a lot of people are not going to vote today; I just don't see it happening," she said. "We don't have homes. The last thing on our minds today is looking for a place to vote."