The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Talkers

October 30, 2012

Could Sandy postpone the election?

(Continued)

A. It's possible, but the legal issues get tricky. States, by and large, are in charge of their own elections. Each state has its own laws dealing with what to do if an emergency jeopardizes voting and who can make the call. 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 jive 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?

A. Yes, but not on the presidential level. New York City was holding its mayoral primary when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, and the city rescheduled the election. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana's governor postponed municipal elections in New Orleans after elections officials said polling places wouldn't be ready.

Q. Other than rescheduling the election, can anything else be done?

A. Voting hours could be extended at various locations. In places where electronic voting machines are in use, paper ballots could be used instead. Some areas also might choose to move polling locations if existing ones are damaged, inaccessible or won't have power on Election Day.

Q. Would those options create any other problems?

A. Lots. If poll hours are extended, under a 2002 law passed by Congress in response to the disputed 2000 presidential election, any voters who show up outside of regular hours must use provisional ballots, which are counted later and could be challenged. 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.

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