How Hurricane Sandy Could Spoil Election Day
Could Hurricane Sandy lead to a constitutional crisis? Since 1845, Congress has mandated that the presidential election take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. But no one in the waning days of the Tyler administration anticipated a giant hurricane hitting the East Coast within a week of Election Day. In fact, there is no precedent whatsoever for a natural disaster of this scale before a federal election. A devastating storm, like Sandy, could produce several constitutional and legal crises if voting can’t take place on November 6.
Keith Gaddie, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma who focuses on elections, notes that, “[while] the Constitution had mechanisms in place to deal with [the 2000 presidential election], this one may reside out of the realm of process to resolve.” The founders saw the risk of electoral ties and close results, but extreme weather was not a priority in 1787.
There are, however, several instances of state and local elections being rescheduled due to disaster. The New York mayoral primary was supposed to take place on September 11, 2001 and was rescheduled because of the terrorist attacks that day. And weather has previously forced local elections to be delayed in Lewiston, Maine and Washington County, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, these examples are of little relevance to a presidential contest. Federal elections are fixed by the Constitution, which states “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”