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Could Sandy postpone next week's presidential election? Yes, in theory

Can Sandy postpone next week’s presidential election? Yes, in theory

  • White House still unsure about how the storm will affect next week’s election
  • The President Doesn’t Set Election Dates, Congress Does
  • States must determine their own electoral strategies in emergency situations according to the electoral rules
  • Emergency plans can lead to legal disputes over final results in some states
  • Some of the most competitive states, such as Ohio and Virginia, are impacted by Sandy. felt

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A week before the election closes, superstorm Sandy has thrown the presidential race upside down, halting early voting in many areas and prompting some to ponder whether the election can even be postponed.

It could take days to restore electricity to more than 8 million homes and businesses that went out of power as the storm ravaged the East Coast — leaving experts wondering whether the election can be postponed from Nov. 6.

While the answer is, of course, yes in theory, the chances of delaying the choice between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are 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 talks about preparing for Hurricane Sandy during a briefing at the White House

US President Barack Obama talks about preparing for Hurricane Sandy during a briefing at the White House

But as the storm left its trail of destruction, even some of those closely involved in the election seemed in limbo about what options are available to deal with the storm.

When asked whether President Barack Obama had the power to push the election, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he wasn’t sure.

Constitutionally, however, the president does not set the date for the elections, Congress does.

Congress could act in a week to change the date, but that would be difficult as lawmakers are on recess and campaigning for re-election at home in their districts.

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Plus, it likely means 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 state and local elections also scheduled for Nov. 6.

“For those states that do not yet have emergency electoral procedures in place, any deviation from the established electoral process could easily give rise to judicial problems over the legitimacy of the election,” said Steven Huefner, a professor at Moritz College of the Ohio State. Act to ABC News.

“Even states with a contingency plan can face lawsuits over specific ways they’ve implemented their contingency plan.”

Some have asked if the election is likely to go ahead but to have New Jersey and New York vote at a different time after that.

That is possible, but the legal issues are going to be tricky. States are generally in charge of their own elections.

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accepts relief supplies for people affected by Hurricane Sandy US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accepts relief supplies for people affected by Hurricane Sandy

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accepts relief supplies for people affected by Hurricane Sandy

Each state has its own laws about what to do if an emergency threatens voting and who can call.

Federal law says that if a state fails to hold a federal race election on the day Congress elects, the state legislature can choose a later date.

Nevertheless, experts told ABC News that even minor emergency measures, such as keeping polling stations open longer in some districts or moving polling stations, are likely to lead to legal challenges and more preliminary votes, which could delay election results.

But state and federal laws don’t always work perfectly. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has said his state’s laws do not give him the power to reschedule the presidential election.

Despite the fact that presidential elections have never been postponed, some point to previous precedents in which the vote has been postponed.

New York City was holding its mayoral election when terrorists struck on September 11, 2001, and the city rescheduled the election.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Louisiana governor postponed the New Orleans municipal election after election officials said polls would not be ready.

Most likely, however, is a compromise for those affected by the devastation caused by the storm.

Voting hours could be expanded in several locations and where electronic voting machines are in use paper ballots could be used instead.

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 in itself create problems.

If voting hours are extended, a 2002 law passed by Congress in response to the contested 2000 presidential election requires voters who turn up outside regular hours to use provisional ballots, which are later counted and can be challenged.

Crucial swing states like Ohio have felt the impact of Sandy and could make a difference in next week's election Crucial swing states like Ohio have felt the impact of Sandy and could make a difference in next week's election

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 preliminary votes cast, the greater the chance that the winner will be announced days or even weeks after the election.

There’s another problem when polling 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 electoral law expert at Ohio State University.

Moving polling stations is also risky because it could reduce 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’ve always gone to, even if you don’t move it 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 look at what support it could provide to states before the election.

“This will be led by the states,” he said.

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