Just as the 2012 General Election of 2012 enters its final nine days, giving hope to those who weary of watching one political attach ad after another and comfort to the presidential campaigns of President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney that in just a few days they will know if all the hard work and money invested in winning the White House paid off, Hurricane Sandy, dubbed “Frankenstorm” because it’s an storm of historic proportions, is anticipated to wreck havoc on east coast states including key states like Virginia and New Hampshire, whose voters could be adversely impacted from casting their ballot and whose election results could be delayed for days, as power companies try to restore electricity to voting locations weather watchers say will be affected by a mega storm that could blow inland as far as all-important Ohio.
No go if rain or snow
“No matter what happens, we will proceed with the election. If polling places need to be moved or consolidated there are legal ways to do that and we will be in constant touch with local election officials to coordinate that,” a spokesman for the Connecticut Secretary of the State told CBS News in an email.
Both the Obama campaign and Romney campaigns are scratching planned appearances, one by Vice President Joseph Biden in Virginia Beach on Saturday, one by Mitt Romney at the Farm Bureau Live amphitheater in Virginia Beach, Va. on Sunday. Reports that a Romney event scheduled for Sunday in Prince William County is still on while it’s unclear whether President Barack Obama will appear Monday with President Bill Clinton in Prince William County, Va., after the Democratic duo make an earlier joint appearance in Youngstown, Ohio.
Because of its size, Hurricane Sandy is estimated to impact their campaign’s ability to hold rallies in four swing states: New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio, which while the storm may eventually reach it, damages are unlikely to be equal to what the storm will bring to Mid-Atlantic states.
Early voting has been important this year, especially for Team Obama-Biden, which has sought to turn voters at record levels, so any negative effects this storm has on voting, given it’s already predicted to be a very tight election, could tip the balance to one candidate or the other. If there is heavy rain or snow or flooding or loss of electric power, prospective voters may not go out and vote. According to a poll taken on this very scenario, one third of undecided voters—27 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Republicans—said that rain or snow on election day would keep them from voting.
A further fear factor is that electronic voting machines and optical scanners, which run on electricity, won’t be operational. Counties that use voting machines are likely looking for power alternatives. Counties that use paper ballots that are optically scanned offer an advantage to their voters: they can mark their ballots and they can be saved for scanning when power returns. While this will delay reporting the results, it doesn’t interfere with actual voting.
A fear the Obama campaign harbors is that voter turnout will be depressed. High voter turnouts are generally good for the Democrats versus low voter turnouts where Republicans benefit. Early voting, at issue in many states but especially battleground states, has been championed by President Obama, who tells every grassroots campaign event that every day is Election Day. If Hurricane Sandy prevents voters from voting, the banked early votes by Obama backers could take on a larger fraction of total votes, since Republicans who normally wait until Election Day to vote may be blown off course by the storm.
Pennsylvania, a state with 20 electoral college votes that Obama currently has a six-point lead in, does not have early voting, so if the storm has its way in the Keystone State, depressed voter turnout, in combination with a state law on voter ID that could add to the confusion, could make results there more of a mystery than otherwise might be under normal circumstances.
It’s expected that more people are expected to vote early than ever before, accounting for as much as 40 percent of the total vote. This number could change as voters on the East Coast realize they need to vote early to avoid the possible consequences of Hurricane Sandy.
Among the 18 percent of registered voters who have already cast their ballots, Obama leads 54-39 percent, an Ipsos poll reported. Unfortunately, early voting is decided by each state legislature, and as a consequence, it’s not available in all states. However, voting by early absentee ballot is law in all 50 states.
Today is also the first day of early voting in New Hampshire and Florida.
While Hurricane Sandy could delay voting and vote counting in several important states, in Ohio, where the storm could reach, vote counting could be delayed for yet another 10 days past Election Day. According to the Ohio Secretary of State, 1.43 million absentee ballots were sent to voters who requested them. Of this total, 800,000 have yet to be returned. To turn a provisional ballot, the result of a discrepancy in voter records, into a countable ballot, the voter casting the ballot has 10 days to show proof of their identity. This time is also used to prevent a voter from voting twice, once by absentee ballot and once in person.
In 2008 in Ohio, which has emerged as the key battleground state, 207,000 provisional ballots were cast. This year, there could be more, maybe more than the margin between President Obama and Mitt Romney. If this is the case, provisional ballots will decide the election. Under Ohio law, the provisional ballots may not be counted until Nov. 17. Should this indeed be the case, the nation won’t know who won or who lost Ohio for at least 10 days before the counting even starts and possibly longer if it takes several days and there are challenges.
President Obama convened a call with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb, and Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan this morning to receive an update on ongoing federal actions to prepare for Hurricane Sandy as it moves toward the United States mainland, according to information provided by the White House Press Secretary. The President reiterated his direction to Administrator Fugate to ensure that federal partners continue to bring all available resources to bear to support state and local responders in potentially affected areas along the Eastern seaboard as they prepare for severe weather.
Hurricane Sandy is expected to produce significant precipitation over widespread areas and has the potential to cause significant power outages. The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to encourage state and local authorities responsible for coordinating with local utility companies to do so ahead of any impacts. The President reiterated his direction to his team to ensure there were no unmet needs as states continue to prepare, and to keep him updated as preparations for the storm continue.
Obama campaign spokesman Jenn Psaki told reporters on Air Force One today en route to New Hampshire from Washington that no one can predict, exactly, how the storm will impact local communities. “And early voting is important and an opportunity because it provides flexibility,” she said, adding, “So whether it’s the storm, or whether it is people having to take their kids to soccer practice, or working double shifts, it’s something we’re continuing to encourage people to be a part of. But we’re monitoring this day by day, just like the administration is, and just like local and state authorities are.”
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