DETROIT
11/06/2012 11:47 am ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Affects Absentee Voting For Out-Of-State Michiganders

LANSING -- Superstorm Sandy caused so much disruption on the East Coast that New Jersey officials allowed displaced residents to vote by e-mail in today's election.

But the storm also disrupted the absentee voting plans for a few Michigan residents visiting the area affected by the Oct. 29 storm that caused widespread flooding and power outages.

Pummeled first by a bicycle on a New York City sidewalk in August and then by Sandy, blind Oakland County attorney Richard Bernstein, 38, said Monday he's afraid he won't get to vote today for the first time since he turned 18.

Michigan Secretary of State officials said Bernstein is out of luck after the storm delayed delivery of his absentee ballot to a New York hotel, where he is recuperating from the smashed pelvis he suffered when a fast-moving cyclist struck him from behind in Central Park.

Bernstein spent nearly 10 weeks in Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan as a result of his injuries before moving to the hotel Oct. 26 to continue his rehabilitation as an outpatient.

He said he applied for his absentee ballot the same day he got a fixed address, and Birmingham City Clerk Laura Broski said Monday that her office mailed the ballot to his hotel Oct. 30.

Bernstein's ballot still hadn't arrived Monday and officials with the Michigan Secretary of State are "basically saying I don't get to vote," Bernstein said. "I don't think that's really fair."

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said state law doesn't provide options and Bernstein can't vote by phone, express mail or e-mail.

It's unclear how many Michigan residents are similarly affected, but Bernstein isn't alone.

Sharon Lipton of Waterford said she was going to deliver absentee ballots to her daughters Sara and Andrea, who are staying in New York, but she was unable to travel there because of the storm.

She instead filled out their ballots for them according to their instructions and signed as having assisted them to vote. But officials in Waterford told her that the ballots won't be counted.

"I am going to pursue this," Lipton said Monday.

Township Clerk Kari Vlaeminck did not return a phone message.

Michigan police officers, utility workers and others sent to the East Coast to help out with the storm also could also be affected. Johnson put out a news release urging them to get absentee ballots before they left Michigan, saying: "We want to ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to cast their ballot."

Detroit resident Cindy Stewart-Massey said it's outrageous that Bernstein, known for his pro bono representation of clients in disability rights cases, apparently won't be able to vote.

"The storm is nobody's fault," she said.

Bernstein, legally blind since birth, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2010.

He said it's not clear to him why Michigan officials won't let him cast a provisional ballot.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com ___

(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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