Can Sandy postpone next week’s presidential election? Yes, in theory
- The White House is still unsure how the storm will affect next week’s election
- The president does not set the date for the election, Congress does
- States must determine their own electoral strategies in emergency situations according to electoral regulations
- Contingency plans can lead to legal wrangling in some states over the final outcomes
- Some of the most competitive states, such as Ohio and Virginia, have felt the impact of Sandy
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A week before the close election, superstorm Sandy has thrown the presidential race into disarray, halting early elections in many areas and leading some to question whether the election might be postponed.
It could take days to restore power to more than 8 million homes and businesses as the storm ravaged the East Coast. Experts wonder whether the elections can be postponed from November 6.
While the answer is of course yes in theory, the likelihood of the choice between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama being delayed is unlikely, despite the devastating effect Superstorm Sandy had on 60 million people in the Northeast, or one-sixth of the population. .
US President Barack Obama speaks at a briefing at the White House about preparations for Hurricane Sandy
But as the storm left its trail of destruction, even some close to the election seemed to be in the dark about how to weather the storm.
When asked Monday whether President Barack Obama had the power to reschedule the election, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he wasn’t sure.
Constitutionally, however, the president does not set the date for the election, Congress does.
Congress could act to change the date within a week, but that would be difficult as legislators are in recess and campaigning for re-election at home in their districts.
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Plus, that would likely mean changing the date for the entire country, not just those affected by the storm.
In addition, Congress only selects the date for federal elections, so changing the date would wreak havoc on the state and local elections also scheduled for November 6.
“For those states that do not already have an electoral emergency process, any deviation from the established electoral process could easily give rise to court challenges over the legitimacy of the election,” said Steven Huefner, a professor at Moritz College of Ohio State. Act on ABC News.
“Even states with contingency plans can face lawsuits over specific ways they implemented their contingency plan.”
Some have questioned whether it is likely that the election will go ahead but that New Jersey and New York will be allowed to vote at a different time after that.
You can, but the legal issues get tricky. States are generally responsible for their own elections.
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accepts relief supplies for people affected by Hurricane Sandy
Each state has its own laws governing what to do if an emergency puts voting at risk and who can call.
Federal law says that if a state fails to hold an election for federal races on the day Congress chooses, the state legislature can choose a later date.
Nevertheless, experts told ABC News that even small emergency measures, such as keeping polling stations open longer in some districts or relocating polling places, are likely to lead to legal challenges and more provisional votes, which could delay election results.
But state and federal laws don’t always line up perfectly. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has said his state’s laws do not grant him the authority to move the presidential election.
Despite the fact that no presidential election has ever been postponed, some point to previous precedents where the vote has been postponed.
New York City was holding its mayoral election when terrorists struck on September 11, 2001 and the city moved the election.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Louisiana governor postponed New Orleans municipal elections after election officials said polling stations would not be ready.
What is most likely, however, is a compromise for those affected by the devastation caused by the storm.
Voting time could be extended in several locations and paper ballots could be used instead in places where electronic voting machines are in use.
Some areas may also choose to relocate polling stations if existing locations are damaged, inaccessible, or without power on Election Day.
But even adjusting Election Day to accommodate those affected would pose problems in itself.
If election hours are extended, under a 2002 law passed by Congress in response to the disputed 2000 presidential election, all voters who show up outside of regular hours must use provisional ballots, which are counted later and can be be challenged.
Crucial swing states like Ohio have felt the impact of Sandy and could make a difference in next week’s election
Sandy’s impact was felt in some of the most competitive states in the presidential race, including Virginia and Ohio.
The more provisional votes are cast, the more likely the winner won’t be known until days or even weeks after the election.
There is another problem if poll hours are extended in some areas, such as counties with the worst storm damage, and not in others.
That could lead to lawsuits under the constitution’s equal protection clause, said Edward Foley, an expert on suffrage at Ohio State University.
Moving polling places is also risky because it could depress turnout, said Neil Malhotra, a political economist at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
“If you disrupt their routine and the polling station they always go to, even if you don’t go very far, they vote less,” he said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate said Monday he expected the storm’s impact could continue into next week and affect the election.
He said FEMA would review before the election what support it could provide to states.
“This will be led by the states,” he said.