Elizabeth Mathewson describes herself as "one of those people who'd vote if there was a dog catcher election." So when she was suddenly hospitalized on Long Island just before the election and too late to get an absentee ballot, she went on a mission.
She called the Nassau County Board of Elections, but couldn't get through because of storm-damaged lines. She called U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand, whose offices referred her to the non-working numbers at the Board of Elections. She called and left messages that weren't returned from political committees. She tried tweeting, and that didn't work. She even called the White House, which passed her back to the same local officials she couldn't reach.
"If there is an election, I vote in it," Mathewson said from her hospital room at North Shore University Hospital. "I just think it is a civic responsibility. All over the world there are people who don't have that privilege, and I don't want to abandon it."
Ultimately, Mathewson connected with a Great Neck lawyer, Michael Sean Weinstock, whose close friend was in the hospital and wanted to vote. The friend, Lee Ielpi is a retired fire chief whose son was killed during the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
Weinstock figured that in addition to Ielpi, president of the 9/11 Tribute Center and Museum, there would probably be lots of potentially disenfranchised people in the medical center, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. He put in two full days of pro bono reaching out to patients and collecting applications, and brought about 15 of them to the Nassau County Board of Elections, where he ran into a roadblock.
"Tuesday morning, I went to the Board of Elections with a stack of applications for absentee ballots and they were all rejected," Weinstock said. "So I requested a hearing before a Supreme Court justice and we had a long hearing. [Supreme Court Justice Michele Woodard (See Profile)] held that every single person would be issued an absentee ballot. I went to Board of Elections, got the ballots, brought them to the hospital and brought them back to the Board of Elections."
Mathewson said Weinstock returned to her hospital room election night.
"The poor man showed up around 7 at night and looked absolutely bedraggled but was very sweet and I filled out the form, signed it and he got it back to the Board of Elections in time," Mathewson said. "What a nice man."
William Biamonte, the Democratic election commissioner at the Nassau County Board of Elections, acknowledged that this year, in the aftermath of the hurricane and with an eleventh hour executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo that allowed people to vote outside their district, it was a "Murphy's Law on steroids" situation.
Rockaway resident Sheresa Walker uses a flashlight as poll worker Lloyd Edwards assists her before voting in a makeshift tent set up as a polling place at a school in a neighborhood hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. Many voters in New Jersey and New York voted at alternate locations on Nov. 6. Mario Tama/Getty Images