Because of the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in the most heavily populated section of the U.S., many are wondering what – if any – impact this storm could have on next Tuesday’s election.
According to The Associated Press, it could take days to restore electricity to more than eight million homes and business that lost power on Monday when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Mid-Atlantic. This means power could still be out in parts of some states on Election Day which is only seven days away.
What impact might this have on the election, especially in precincts that rely on electronic voting machines? Is it possible that the Nov. 6 election could be postponed?
“Yes, but it’s highly unlikely,” reports the AP’s Josh Lederman.
Congress sets the date for the presidential election, which is held every fourth year on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. In order to delay this year’s election, Congress would have to act within the next week to change the date – something that would be incredibly difficult since lawmakers are in recess and home for the elections. But even if this did happen, Congress would have to change the date of the election for the entire country, not just areas affected by the hurricane – a move that would cause all kinds of problems for state and local elections already scheduled for Nov. 6.
Why not just push back the election in some states?
“It’s possible, but the legal issues get tricky,” Lederman explains. “States, by and large, are in charge of their own elections. Each state has its own laws dealing with what to do if an emergency jeopardizes voting and who can make the call.”
Have elections ever been postponed before?
“Yes, but not on the presidential level,” Lederman writes.
For instance, on Sept. 11, 2001, New York City was holding its mayoral primary. The disaster forced officials to reschedule the election. This happened again in 2005 when municipal elections in New Orleans had to be postponed after Hurricane Katrina struck because so many polling places were not ready.
The only option might be to extend voting hours, to use paper ballots in areas where electronic voting machines are not working, or to move polling places to areas where equipment is running. But even this causes problems.
For instance, a 2002 law passed by Congress in response to the disputed 2000 election deemed that any voter who shows up after voting hours must use a provisional ballot – votes that are not counted until after the election and are ripe for challenges. Because Sandy’s impact was felt most in the critical swing states of Virginia and Ohio where the race is considered to be razor thin, this could delay election results for days or even weeks after the election.
Relocating a polling place is also risky because people tend to skip voting entirely when their usual routine is disrupted.
As of today, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) administrator, Craig Fugate, said the storm will definitely impact the election next week. While FEMA is planning to help states with whatever support they need before the election, the final decision about what do in areas where voting is impossible next Tuesday will be left up to the states involved.
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