Superstorm Sandy has left millions on the East Coast without power, whole neighborhoods in New Jersey under water and public transportation in New York at a virtual standstill.
With just four days to go until election day and both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney ramping up their campaigning to a fever pitch in the final sprint to November 6, one of the biggest questions hanging over the election is how Sandy will impact voting for those in the affected areas. Among the most worried are young and first-time college voters who either live in those areas and are having trouble mailing their ballots back home or who reside in neighborhoods without power and basic services that might not be restored by Tuesday.
Will election officials be forced to take the unprecedented act of postponing the election, or at least pushing it back in certain areas?
The short answer is that without the passage of a new federal law, the election must happen on Tuesday, according to CNN. Some spot postponements could happen in the most heavily damaged areas from Virginia to New Hampshire, but at press time that determination had not yet been made.
Among the issues: moving polling places from flooded locations to safer ground and replacing electronic voting machines with paper ballots in areas without power.
Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, said those in states with early voting should try to take advantage of that and reminded those who’ve already received their absentee ballots to get them postmarked by Monday (November 5) at the latest.
“In states with early voting that was suspended on Monday and Tuesday, most have re-opened those locations and extended the hours from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.,” said Smith, who noted that early voting typically ends on the Friday before the election, but that it has generally been extended through the weekend. If you haven’t registered to vote yet, though, those deadlines have mostly passed. (Check the election center at rockthevote.com for information on how and where to vote in your state and to get polling hours.)
Smith said Rock the Vote looked at early voting for already registered voters in 18 states and found that some, like Georgia and Florida, were not impacted, while Virginia and Washington, D.C. briefly suspended early voting, but have since resumed it. Massachusetts and New York do not have early voting, so that was not an issue in those states and in North Carolina and West Virginia early voting (which goes through Saturday) was suspended in some counties during the storm, but then resumed by Wednesday.
“As for New York and New Jersey, I have full confidence that the officials in both states will make sure that everyone is able to cast a ballot,” said Smith. “They’re working to get the power on so that they can open polling places for election day.”
Because polling places are based on where you live, they are often accessible without using public transportation. That means that those in the storm-hit areas with power or alternate polling locations should, in theory, be able to walk to their polls with little problem. Smith said elections officials are looking into deploying back-up generators to power voting machines in those locations, or switching to paper ballots.
“If your location is not able to be opened for whatever reason, they will be moving those polling places to somewhere that can accommodate you,” she said. “But people should double and triple check their polling location with county elections officials before making the trip to vote.”
The county elections offices will have specific information on any changes to voting procedures in each county, including where polling places will be for in-person voting on Election Day and if an extension has been made to request an absentee ballot for those who can no longer be there on Tuesday due to Sandy.
For example, Smith said, in Ocean County, New Jersey, which was heavily damaged by the storm, voters can call the Board of Elections at (732) 929-2167 to find out if their polling place has moved. If voters in that city want to vote right away, the county is allowing anyone to come into the Administrative Building (101 Hooper Ave in Tom’s River) to get a ballot and fill it out in person; make sure to bring a valid ID.
If you live in New York, the deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail has passed, but you can still request one in person at your county board of elections through Monday. That ballot must be postmarked no later than Monday or returned in person on election day.
The mail-in request deadline for absentee ballots has already passed in New Jersey as well, but some counties are extending their absentee request process due to Sandy. Contact your local county office to get more information.
With the election just days away, stick with MTV’s Power of 12 throughout Tuesday’s voting for results, analysis and reports from Chicago, Boston and New York on election night.