Concerns are growing that Superstorm Sandy could disrupt the presidential election, which is a major focus of not only the general public but also business and financial markets in the U.S. and across the globe. The victor of this election will have an impact on tax and health care policy, the dreaded fiscal cliff and all issues that affect the broad economy.
It's too soon to say exactly how the storm will impact the election, but there are polling places throughout the states most affected -- such as New Jersey and New York -- that may not open because of the damage they've sustained. They may be in buildings that are no longer standing or have no electricity or are severely flooded -- or any combination of these.
It's highly unlikely the national election will actually be postponed because of Sandy. A presidential election has not been postponed since the early 1800s, according to Professor Steven Huefner, a senior fellow of election law at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. Postponement would require Congressional action and presidential approval. States could, however, extend voting beyond Election Day. But those states would have had to have processes already in place to do so, says Huefner. In addition, those states would want other states to delay the results of their votes, and that would open up another set of complications at state and federal levels.
So what will happen to voting in those neighborhoods and states that were hit hard by Sandy, whose wrath was felt from Virginia to Rhode Island? I tried to find out the situation in my town of South Orange, New Jersey. It has 12 election districts voting in 8 polling places. At least one of those polling places, where I vote, currently has no electricity and, according to what Public Service Electric & Gas Co. has indicated, it will likely have no electricity come Election Day. As of now, approximately 6 million households -- from New York to Maryland -- are without power as a result of the storm.
Robin Kline, the village clerk in South Orange, says she will be working with county officials, including the Board of Elections for Essex County, to find a location for affected citizens to vote. "We can't disenfranchise voters," Kline says. She doesn't know yet where that location will be, since schools, churches and other buildings housing polling places are currently closed. Nor does she know how news of the new polling place will be communicated to voters. (The town's web site is currently down). In the meantime, Kline will be working with county officials, including the EssexCounty Board of Elections office, and she also expects to file an extension of the vote with the state.
How Superstorm Sandy affects turnout is another concern. Professor Huefner says the impact depends on how isolated the event. If more people are affected and know about the new location, it could potentially increase turnout rather than decrease it, says Huefner. He says the bigger impact of Sandy may be the personal challenges created by the storm: "Some voters will be so focused on their lives have been disrupted that they may not deem to get to the polls Election Day."