As Hurricane Sandy approaches the coast of New Jersey and is causing havoc on the coast from North Carolina north, it is interesting to ask a simple question — what if this storm was hitting on November 5, not at the end of October?
The impact of such an event could be devastating to the ability of states to hold elections and to national politics. Steven Huefner at the Moritz College of law wrote a nice legal analysis of some of the implications of Sandy on elections. I want to make some of what he implied more specific and also raise some additional questions for consideration.
First, lets briefly consider some of the things likely to be wrought by Sandy.
Massive and lasting power outages.
- No power means that DREs will only operate as long as their batteries last. It also means that voters voting on paper ballots will not have the use of scanners to identify errors on their ballots. But wait, there is more!
- No power means no alarm clocks to wake up poll workers, no phones to call the custodian to open the school, and no lights in the school for voting.
- No power means no call centers for when problems arise, no printing last minute changes to the voter registration roster, and limited use of those automatic poll books.
Evacuations and Traffic.
- Some voters will literally not be able to vote because they will have been evacuated from their local polling place and there is no provision for remote voting. Imagine if Long Island was under an evacuation notice; how would those voters vote?
- Today in New York and DC, there is no transit. How do people get to the polls where there is flooding, no power for traffic lights, and no public transport available?
The Horizontal State Problem and the Early Voting Problem
- The horizontal state problem are best epitomized by Pennsylvania and New York. Neither state has early voting and both have very strict absentee voting laws. Hurricane Sandy hits tonight and there is no power on Election Day in Philadelphia or New York City. People are warned to stay indoors because of downed power lines and flooding. However, in the rest of both states, people can vote. Such an event could systematically disenfranchise major metropolitan areas critical to determining who wins these states in Presidential and Senate races. Also, who wins the contested House races in these localities.
- The early voting problem is an extension of the horizontal state problem. Imagine that North Carolina is severely hit — a state with extensive early voting and liberal absentee voting. Does the system make any allowance for one voter having an easier time voting than the voter who wants to vote on Election Day?
Not A New Problem
Ever since 9/11, we have all been well-aware that disasters can completely disrupt an election. However, Congress and state legislatures have avoided considering these contingencies. Perhaps we should before we have a real constitutional crisis.