TPM Reader JA has this question …
I have seen and heard numerous discussions of how Sandy might affect the election results if some people have trouble getting to the polls to vote. What I haven’t seen is any discussion of what happens if there are no polls to go to or there are only electronic voting machines and no power?
I live in the Philly suburbs and expect the eye to pass pretty close in a couple of hours. It hasn’t been too bad here so far, but I’m watching pictures of the flooding at the Jersey shore. How do people who have been evacuated vote next week if they are still in shelters and can’t go home due to the damage? Do election officials have time to prepare paper ballots if necessary and how long until they could be counted? Is there any precedent for these scenarios for a presidential election? Just some interesting questions - any thoughts? My brother and I have been talking about this hypothetically in the run up to Sandy, but the hypothetical could be here.
I’ve seen some people asking whether the Congress or the President would need to get involved. Someone even asked Jay Carney if the President would have to cancel or postpone the election. As a narrow matter, I’m pretty sure this would be entirely in the hands of individual states for better or worse. As we saw in Bush v Gore, the states have to abide by certain general standards. But there is no national election. You have state elections and it’s pretty much up to the states how they would choose to handle these things.
As for what the states would do, I truly have no idea. Aside from the simple logistical questions, it goes without saying that there would be a massive uproar if any extraordinary measures had to be taken in swing states. For the heck of it, it’s worth noting that the governors of Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania are Republicans.
Late Update: A number of readers have pointed out, rightly, that the timing of federal elections is governed by federal statute. The states can’t unilaterally change that. What I’m less clear on is whether that would govern the situations people are envisioning. First, let me say that I’ve seen nothing to date that makes me think these things are going to happen. But as long as we’re talking hypotheticals, here goes. Let’s say there was a massive hurricane that hit Maryland and polling places were shut down around the state and only 20% of precincts were able to accept votes. It’s not clear to me that that federal law would bar Maryland from continuing to allow people to vote for two or three days after that. Would be very curious to hear from people familiar with the relevant case law on this point.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.