A new wildcard has emerged in this election season which could actually decide the election itself – Hurricane Sandy.
The storm, which is currently centered off the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, has a projected track which may take it right into the center of the Mid-Atlantic, home to over 50 million Americans. Should Sandy’s current forecast track, released Sunday by the National Hurricane Center hold, it will make landfall somewhere along the southern New Jersey shore around 2 a.m. on Tuesday, with minimum sustained winds of 75 MPH, and gusts of up to 98 MPH being felt at least 50 miles from the storm’s center.
Already, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have both adjusted their campaign plans, bypassing Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic in favor of non-affected locales. While the candidates are busying campaigning this week, much of the Mid-Atlantic will be cleaning up after a very messy weather event. It also means that there may be some adjustments to the election schedules for the areas affected by Sandy. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, and New York are all states likely to be affected by the storm, which forecasters at the National Hurricane Center have described as “unprecedented.”
In Connecticut, plans are already being discussed to address possible disruptions to electricity and transportation networks. Secretary of State Denise Merrill, speaking to the Housatonic (CT) Times, mentioned how the state had to make adjustments during a snowstorm in 2011 which fell around election day. Despite a looming natural disaster, Merrill said, federal election law still takes precedence over state laws. However, she took solace the not just the lessons learned from that experience, but the fact that Sandy is at least being recognized as a potential disruption.
“At least they’ve all been thinking about it. Who knows what we’re going to be facing.”
New Jersey, the state considered the prime target for Sandy’s landfall, has no information listed on its website regarding election contingency plans in advance of Sandy. Instead, the Garden State issued a rather cryptic statement to the North Shore Journal.
“The state and county elections offices, as well as the state and county Offices of Emergency Management are on alert that the storm could potentially impact some polling places.” The release said. “However, if that should happen each site would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis following the storm, to ensure that New Jersey voters have access to the polls on Election Day.”
Pennsylvania, expected to bear the brunt of the storm’s inland wind and rains, is making preparations for the election on a county-by-county basis. Its State Department Spokesman, Ron Ruman, told the (Harrisburg) Patriot-Times that individual counties are responsible for election contingency planning, and that such plans may include petitioning the state to extend polling hours and designating alternate polling locations to compensate for potential disruptions.
New York appears to be focused on evacuations and disaster mitigation, having faced down the wrath of Hurricane Irene last year. The Empire State appears confident that disruption to services affecting the election will be minimal. Delaware, also in Sandy’s projected path, has made few, if any, statements regarding contingency planning in the event of the storm disruption the ability to hold elections.
The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner considered the potential impact of Sandy on the elections in a Friday post. Weiner referenced sources within the Obama campaign who stated they are unconcerned with the impact of the storm on the election itself. Yet another study about the 2000 election, also cited by Weiner, indicated that Mother Nature may have played a hand in that disputed contest.
“A senior adviser to President Obama said that the campaign doesn’t expect the storm to be a major issue. But according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Politics, bad weather generally helps Republicans — better weather, the authors say, would have won Al Gore Florida in 2000.”
Keegan Gibson of PoliticsPA.com speculated why the storm could be bad news for the president’s re-election bid.
“It goes without saying that Philadelphia is Democrats’ base in Pa., and statewide candidates are relying on strong turnout there to seal the deal.”
Sandy is expected to make landfall early Tuesday morning between Delaware and extreme northern New Jersey, near New York City. Over 50 million people are expected to be affected by issues ranging from power outages, to high winds, to flooding, all of which present potential disruption issues for polling sites in the affected states.