5:17pm

Tue October 30, 2012
Election 2012

Large Power Outages Raise Concerns For Election Day

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Looming over the recovery from Super Storm Sandy is what to do about next Tuesday's election? The prospect that some voters could still be displaced or without power a week from today has election officials trying to come up with alternative plans.

It even has some people talking about the highly unusual step of delaying the vote, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: It's something that a lot of people don't really want to contemplate right now, holding an orderly election in communities where homes, businesses and even lives have been lost, and where just getting through tomorrow is a big enough challenge.

Here's New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie today when asked about his state's plans for next week's vote.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I don't give a damn about Election Day. It doesn't matter a lick to me. At the moment, I've got a much bigger fish to fry than that, so do the people of the state of New Jersey.

FESSLER: Although he says his lieutenant governor, who oversees elections, is looking into contingency plans.

Right now, election officials throughout the region are still trying to assess the extent of the damage. In Connecticut, hundreds of local officials will hold a conference call tomorrow morning to decide what should be done to ensure that those in the hardest hit areas of the state can vote.

NED FOLEY: If emergency generators can make polling places open, you know, it might be possible to hold an election even if power hasn't been fully restored in a particular community.

FESSLER: Ned Foley is an election law expert at Ohio State University. He says there are other options too, including using emergency paper ballots that polling sites usually have on hand in case voting machines break down. Or, he says, absentee ballot rules can be loosened for those who have been evacuated to a location that has electricity.

FOLEY: They may be able to download an emergency ballot even if power is not restored back home.

FESSLER: He says almost anything would be preferable to what could be called the response of last resort: postponing the vote for those affected by the storm. It's a remedy fraught with potential problems, says John Fortier, election expert with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

JOHN FORTIER: It is not a good thing to postpone an election. Obviously if there's a necessity, you can't do it, there has to be some accommodation. But how that accommodation is done is murky territory.

FESSLER: Murky because, while Congress set Election Day as the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the law leaves some wiggle room for states. But few states have concrete plans on what to do in such a major emergency. Fortier says one potential problem with a delay is having some voters cast ballots after most of the rest of the country has voted, and the outcome of the presidential race may already be known.

FORTIER: You don't want to go down that road unless you absolutely have to.

FESSLER: Not only will it invite legal challenges, it raises questions of fairness. Much better, he says, is to plan for these things in advance. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.