One week before a close election, superstorm Sandy has confounded the presidential race, halted early voting in many areas and led some to ponder whether the election might even be postponed.
It could take days to restore electricity to more than 8 million homes and businesses that lost power when the storm pummeled the East Coast.
That means it’s possible power could still be out in parts of some states on Election Day next Tuesday – a major problem for precincts that rely on electronic voting machines.
But as the storm breached the coast, even some of those intimately involved in the election seemed in the dark about what options are available to cope with the storm. Asked Monday whether President Barack Obama had the power to reschedule the election, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he wasn’t sure.
Some questions and answers about what’s possible and not when it comes to reworking Election Day.
Q. Could the Nov. 6 election be changed?
Congress could act within the next week to change the date, but that would be tough because lawmakers are on recess and back home in their districts campaigning for re-election.
Plus, it likely would mean changing the date for the entire country, not just those affected by the storm.
What’s more, Congress only selects the date for federal races, so changing the date would wreak havoc for state and local elections also scheduled for Nov. 6. States might have to hold two separate days of voting, which could bust state budgets.
Q. What about pushing back the election just in some states?
Federal law says that if a state fails to conduct an election for federal races on the day Congress chooses, the state legislature can pick a later date.
But state and federal laws don’t always mesh perfectly. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has said his state’s laws don’t grant him authority to reschedule the presidential election.
Q. Have elections ever been postponed before?
Q . Other than rescheduling the election, can anything else be done?
Q. Would those options create any other problems?
Sandy’s impact was felt in some of the most competitive states in the presidential race, including Virginia and Ohio. The more provisional ballots that are cast, the greater the chances are that the winner won’t be known until days or even weeks after the election.
There’s another issue if poll hours are extended in some areas – such as counties with the worst storm damage – and not in others.
That could prompt lawsuits under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, said Edward Foley, an election law expert at The Ohio State University.
Relocating polling places is also risky because it could drive down turnout, said Neil Malhotra, a political economist at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. “If you disrupt their routine and the polling place they’ve always been going to, even if you don’t move it very far, they vote less,” he said.