NEW YORK -- It sounds like a Halloween nightmare: after a major storm, wide swaths of the country are without power going into Election Day. Electronic voting machines cannot operate, denying Americans the right to vote and throwing the result of a presidential election into question.
But due to a spectacular combination of bad timing and Hurricane Sandy's massive girth, some elements of that scenario are coming into play. States all up and down the East Coast, including battlegrounds like Virginia and North Carolina, canceled early voting hours this week. Cleaning up damage from Sandy will make it harder for supporters to volunteer and could depress turnout in some areas.
“We’ll be ready for Election Day one way or the other, and people will have the opportunity to vote in the election, but we’re just going to have to see where we are,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) said Wednesday evening.
But even Christie acknowledged that there could be some polling places without power as of Election Day Tuesday. That could lead to problems for voters who will also be struggling with washed out roads and wrecked homes.
In some small fortune, while the "Frankenstorm" did move inland toward the battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio that will likely decide the election because of the electoral college, its damage was not as extensive in those states as on the coast.
"Thank God we're not New Jersey and New York right now," said Stuart Garson, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Democrats in Ohio. "We have sporadic outages, but it's not like we have a half a million people [without power]."
As of Thursday, 77,000 customers were without power in Cuyahoga, which includes the critical Democratic stronghold of Cleveland, according to figures from utility company FirstEnergy.
But Garson said that Cleveland's in-person early voting center had not been affected by outages. The numbers of in-person voters thus far this year, 30,241, was down only slightly from the similar figure at this point in 2008, 34,527. Garson chalked that up more to bad weather than power problems, and said he was confident that an increase in absentee ballots made up for the shortfall.
"I do think we are going to give President Obama and Sen. Sherrod Brown a big big bump here," he said.
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, there were 509,839 customers without power as of Thursday afternoon. The percentage of people affected, 8 percent, was relatively light compared to New Jersey, where 43 percent were waiting for the lights to come back on. But the number was still significant in a state where a swing of just 310,000 voters would have put Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), then the Republican presidential nominee, over the top in 2008.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has pledged that he will work with utilities to ensure that every polling place in the state has power by Election Day. Backup plans include emergency paper ballots and running electronic voting machines on battery power.
Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey and New York make extensive use of early voting, which could minimize the impact of storm-related disruptions on voting. But cleanup from Sandy looks like it will take more than a week.
"The photos I've seen in New Jersey -- I don't understand how you hold an election there," said Thad Hall, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Utah. "Like literally, I don't understand you hold an election somewhere that's flooded."
If elections officials cannot find backup polling places in time, or voters are too busy managing their own troubles to vote, that could create legitimacy problems, Hall argued.
"What is likely to happen is that Obama's still going to win New Jersey and win New York, but what it may do is ... lower his vote totals nationally enough where he's going to win the electoral college but not win the national vote," Hall said.
If that happens, he continued, the outcome will be a repeat of "all those kind of arguments that Democrats made after 2000 but Republicans are a lot better making over and over again" about a president's mandate. "They haven't given up on birther conspiraces and things like that, so think about what they're going to do if he doesn't win the popular vote," he said.
In close races downballot from senator to dogcatcher, Hall also worries about the storm disruptions' ability to tip elections.
Hall and others have also expressed the belief that Hurricane Sandy should serve as a wake-up call to Congress, which has not put in place provisions for emergencies that disrupt the election on a massive scale.
Things are bad enough as they are, Hall said, but "if this had happened next week, we would be in a world of disaster."
The Huffington Post is eager for insights from our community, especially people with experience in power, infrastructure and engineering, on the adequacy of emergency preparation in advance of Hurricane Sandy, and the degree to which past disasters have informed adequate planning and construction. Please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with insights and suggestions for the important questions that need to be asked of relevant private sector and government officials, and point us toward stories that need to be pursued.
Also on HuffPost:
President Barack Obama
In a hastily organized press briefing at the White House, Obama said Monday that his race with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is the furthest thing from his mind as the East Coast braces for what could be its worst storm in history. "I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I am worried about the impact on families. I am worried about the impact on our first responders," he said. "The election will take care of itself next week." ... He also sent out a campaign email on Monday urging supporters to heed advice from local authorities and extending an early thank you to first responders. “Michelle and I are keeping everyone in the affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. Be safe,” reads the email, signed by Obama. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/hurricane-sandy-obama_n_2042403.html?1351610452">HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery and Lynne Peeples </a></em>
Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took a moment in an overflow room ahead of a campaign rally Monday to express his concern for those in the path of Hurricane Sandy and encourage the people of Ohio to do what they could to help those out east. “I want to mention that our hearts and prayers are with all the people in the storm's path," he said in Avon Lake, Ohio. "Sandy is another devastating hurricane by all accounts, and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury." He went on to encourage those who can afford it to make a donation to the Red Cross. "If there are other ways that you can help, please take advantage of them because there will be a lot of people that are going to be looking for help and the people in Ohio have big hearts, so we're expecting you to follow through and help out," he said. Romney concluded the rally by echoing his comments from the overflow room. "This looks like another time we all need to come together," he said. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/mitt-romney-hurricane-sandy_n_2039620.html?1351610466">HuffPost's Elise Foley</a></em>
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) continued his praise of President Barack Obama's work responding to Hurricane Sandy, using a press briefing Monday evening to note that he appreciated the "leadership" Obama was showing in the emergency. Christie, a prominent surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said that he and Obama had a private phone conversation on Monday to discuss how the federal government could help New Jersey. He said that Obama told Christie that he could call him directly over the next 48 hours if the state government had issues with federal response to the hurricane in New Jersey. “I appreciate that type of leadership," Christie said of Obama. The Republican governor said most of the call centered on Obama's concern for New Jersey and then he continued to heap praise on the president, saying Obama's work has been "proactive." Christie shortened a campaign trip for Romney to return to New Jersey to handle the storm response. Christie started his praise of Obama during press briefings on Sunday, when he said "appreciated" Obama's outreach to him and the governors of other states being impacted by Hurricane Sandy. During a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Christie described another call he had with Obama and said that the president and his aides have been working to benefit New Jersey. “We appreciate the president’s efforts in that regard," Christie said earlier Monday. "He and his staff worked tremendously hard.” -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/chris-christie-sandy-obama_n_2041673.html">HuffPost's John Celock</a></em>
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Newark Mayor Cory Booker
Former Vice President Al Gore
This week, our nation has anxiously watched as Hurricane Sandy lashed the East Coast and caused widespread damage--affecting millions. Now more than ever, our neighbors need our help. Please consider donating or volunteering for your local aid organizations. The images of Sandy’s flooding brought back memories of a similar--albeit smaller scale-- event in Nashville just two years ago. There, unprecedented rainfall caused widespread flooding, wreaking havoc and submerging sections of my hometown. For me, the Nashville flood was a milestone. For many, Hurricane Sandy may prove to be a similar event: a time when the climate crisis—which is often sequestered to the far reaches of our everyday awareness became a reality. While the storm that drenched Nashville was not a tropical cyclone like Hurricane Sandy, both storms were strengthened by the climate crisis. Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. Hurricane Sandy, and the Nashville flood, were reminders of just that. Other climate-related catastrophes around the world have carried the same message to hundreds of millions. Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy's storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
"Our thoughts and prayers rest with the families, friends, and loved ones of all those who have lost their lives in the course of Hurricane Sandy, and our hearts go out to the millions of Americans waking up to destruction and devastation in their homes and communities today. "We are all grateful to the rescue workers and first responders working around-the-clock to save lives, restore power, and deal with the immediate aftermath of the storm. Federal, state, and local authorities have worked hand-in-hand to prepare for and respond to this natural disaster, and we will continue to do so as Americans begin to take stock of the damage, recover, and rebuild. "All Members of Congress stand ready to offer our aid and assistance to communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. As we have done in the past, the American people will stand united to confront the impact of this storm and start the work of recovery."
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)
Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio)
Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)
“Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the Northeast hard last night and will complicate life in our region for the coming days. I am astounded at what I have seen in my own congressional district: flooding throughout Coney Island, Battery Park City, and other areas; widespread power outages; felled trees everywhere you look; and some very tragic fatalities. I am grateful to our local responders and laborers, who are doing a tremendous job on emergency response. And, through the President’s declaration of New York as a major disaster area, we will be able to immediately allocate FEMA funds to begin to repair the billions of dollars in damage locally and bring relief to New Yorkers whose lives have been turned upside down.”