Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy- October Surprise?

Life in Washington is quickly going back to normal after being brushed by Hurricane Sandy yesterday- Metro service is being restored, electricity is coming back, and politicos are debating the impact of the storm on the upcoming election.

While certainly there are more pressing matters on the Eastern Seaboard at the moment, it is hard to ignore the fact that the hurricane hit one week before a very close presidential election. Logistically, holding an election one week after Hurricane Sandy could prove difficult in cities and regions still lacking electricity; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is reportedly looking into ways to power electronic voting machines in areas without power on Election Day. Hurricane Sandy also halted early voting and absentee voting in several states; Maryland and the District of Columbia had to cancel early voting yesterday and today, and officials are extending early voting hours to make up for the lost time. Though it will be difficult to tell what impact that has on voter turnout, it isn’t impossible to imagine that those who have had severe property damage or are without power may not turn out to vote in as high numbers as they would have otherwise.

Candidates hoping to make a last push in swing states have also been derailed by the storm; both the Romney and Obama campaigns have cancelled events, though Romney has been holding “relief rallies” in Ohio to collect supplies for storm victims. President Obama is off the campaign trail until at least Thursday, as he plans to tour disaster sites in New Jersey tomorrow, though campaign representatives such as Bill Clinton are being dispatched to swing states for events.

Like hanging chads in Florida, political scientists will debate the impact of the storm for years to come. Will President Obama gain traction in states like Virginia because of his response to the storm, or will Romney’s response help to endear him to voters?  If voter turnout is down in impacted states, was Sandy the cause or was voter apathy a more likely explanation? As Ralph Nader certainly knows, these theories are ones that are unlikely to ever be proved or disproved.

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