Superstorm Sandy: Election could be delayed as campaign blown off course
White House rivals Barack Obama and Mitt Romney suspended campaigning yesterday to concentrate on rescue and relief efforts from superstorm Sandy, as leaders in several states began mulling an unprecedented postponement to next week’s US presidential election.
With the full impact of the post-tropical cyclone in the north-east still being assessed, officials were unable to say whether Tuesday’s polling day might have to be pushed back, so voters in areas without power, or who are unable to return after evacuations, could cast their ballots.
The head of the federal disaster agency said he expected some disruption and that lawyers were looking at the likely implications.
“We are anticipating that, based on the storm, there could be impacts that would linger into next week and have impacts on the federal election,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Our chief counsel has been working on making sure that we have the proper guidance.
“We’re going through the regulatory policy and making sure [of] all that’s in place and [that] we can support it.”
No previous presidential election has been put back, and Congress passed a resolution in 2004, in response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington three years earlier, that “no single individual or agency should be given the authority to postpone the date”.
Yet federal law gives each state discretion in a situation where an election might have been disrupted, stating that if it “has failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law, the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such state may direct”.
Experts say there is much confusion because any postponement would be unprecedented and that a flood of lawsuits would likely follow any such decision by an individual state.
“It’s not unusual for some surprise event to happen just before an election, and the term ‘October surprise’ is common in American politics, but something of this magnitude is extraordinarily unusual,” David Lewis, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, told The Scotsman.
“But I think it’s really unlikely that the election will be postponed. “In terms of the election, even if it’s difficult for voters to get to the polls, it would only matter in a couple of states.”
Both campaigns were planning a multi-million-dollar blitz of television commercials for the final week of the campaign, but have pulled them in all of the north-eastern states hit by the storm.
President Obama and Mr Romney, the Republican candidate, and their respective running mates, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, also backed out of campaign appearances, “out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy”, according to Gail Gitcho, Republican campaign manager.
Mr Romney earlier appeared at an event in Ohio that was converted hastily into a makeshift disaster relief operation, with the candidate urging supporters to bring supplies to be loaded on to a campaign bus and delivered to Virginia.
He also spent some time yesterday on the phone to federal emergency officials, sparking accusations of hypocrisy from Democrats, who pointed to a December 2011 interview in which Mr Romney said it was “immoral” for the federal government to spend on disaster relief that should be in the hands of individual states.
Mr Biden’s staff rescheduled appearances for later in the week, while former president Bill Clinton was still on the campaign trail yesterday in support of Mr Obama in western states far removed from Sandy’s destructive path.
Mr Obama said: “I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I’m worried about the impact on families, and I’m worried about the impact on our first-responders.
“I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation.
“The election will take care of itself next week,” he added. “Right now, our number-one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives.”
Mr Romney said: “The damage will probably be significant and, of course, a lot of people will be out of power for a long time, so hopefully your thoughts and prayers will join with mine and people across the country as you think about those folks that are in harm’s way.”
One unexpected consequence of the storm, meanwhile, was the temporary suspension of the opinion polls that have dominated election coverage.
Gallup and Investors Daily announced they were halting their daily tracking polls, citing difficulties in reaching voters with phone lines and communications broken. The latest Pew Research Centre poll, from Sunday, declared the race a tie with both candidates on 47 per cent, although Professor Lewis believes Mr Romney is at a disadvantage with his campaign frozen for a few days.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South