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N.J.'s Christie opens offices for early voting; paper ballots ready

(Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Saturday said he has ordered county clerks to open their offices on Saturday and Sunday to allow early voting for residents affected by superstorm Sandy.

The storm devastated the eastern part of the state, leaving at least 22 dead and more than 1 million customers still without power just three days before the presidential election on Nov 6.

Christie said New Jersey residents could get their early voting done over the weekend at the county clerk's office because he ordered the offices to stay open in every county in the state over the weekend.

"Time on your hands? Tired of cleaning stuff up? Go there in person, you'll get a ballot, you vote and hand it in and you're done," he said in a press briefing from the town of Little Ferry.

The governor also said paper ballots would be made available on Election Day, Tuesday, allowing people to vote "old school" at polling stations that still do not have power. The National Guard will protect trucks set up at these makeshift polling stations to enable voting, he said.

For those who are not sure where to vote on Election Day, Christie said that beginning on Tuesday morning, residents can send a text message to 877877 with their address and will immediately receive a response with their polling location.

"There's no reason why anybody shouldn't vote. We're going to have a full, fair, transparent, open voting process," Christie said.

He also said the state will soon have more than 11,000 utility workers on the job of restoring power. Nearly 1.3 million New Jersey electricity customers, about one third of the state, remained without power as of Saturday, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will soon be working with those who are likely to be long-term evacuees, many from the New Jersey shore's hard-hit barrier islands, to find temporary housing outside of emergency shelters, Christie said.

The governor also said he has ordered the natural gas systems shut off on many of the barrier islands hit by the storm because of the fire hazard they pose.

(Reporting by Dan Burns and Liana B. Baker; Editing by Jackie Frank and Eric Walsh)

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