Hurricane Sandy Could Have Bearing on Election

Voters are likely to blame Obama, for not acting quickly enough, says political scientist Munger

The devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy could impact the results of the presidential election, which is just a week away and too close to call, says Duke professor Michael Munger.

"Governments always respond 'too slowly' from the perspective of the beleaguered citizens in disaster zones," says Munger, director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program at Duke. "Sometimes, as with the Chinese response to the earthquakes in Sichuan or the U.S. response to Katrina, these complaints may be justified.

"But the problem is that the massive response required takes a week or more to organize. Voters are likely to blame Obama, and FEMA, for not acting quickly enough, given the scale of the disaster."

Munger says that even if officials wanted to reschedule the Nov. 6 election, it would be nearly impossible to do so.

"The election cannot be rescheduled or postponed by the federal government. The Constitution says that the time, place and manner of elections is up to the states, but U.S. federal statute requires that presidential elections be held so that electors are ‘appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year.'"

Unless Congress can convene in special session, pass a bill through both House and Senate, and have the president sign it, "the election must take place as scheduled, as far as the federal government is concerned," Munger says.

"The individual states may have provisions that allow them to reschedule elections in an emergency, though this would be a nightmare. Once postponed, the only really hard deadline would be the requirement that presidential electors would have to be selected at least six days before the Electoral College vote, which is Dec. 17. So if a state reschedules, the election would have to take place no later than Dec. 11.

"But it is important to note that the decision to postpone depends on the power of the state to postpone. Some states, such as Virginia, have no such provision.  Other states (Maryland, possibly New York by judicial order) can postpone, but the process is not clear-cut."

Munger notes that if some states did reschedule their vote, "it would create a firestorm of conspiracy theories and protests. If the vote is close, as seems likely, in some of the affected states, the resulting legal battle could easily make Florida in 2000 look tame."