How to hold (or delay) an election after a hurricane

"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," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters Monday afternoon. 

An election delay would be up to the states. But the only real precedent is the Sept. 11, 2001 mayoral primary in New York. (Asked Tuesday morning about whether the election in New Jersey would go on as planned, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said bluntly, "I don't give a damn about Election Day. It doesn't matter a lick to me. I've got much bigger fish to fry.") 

A 2004 Congressional Research Service report on the possibility of delaying the election (at the time, the concern was a terrorist attack) concluded that "there is also no federal law which currently provides express authority to 'postpone' an election,although the potential operation of federal statutes regarding vacancies and the consequences of a State’s failure to select on the prescribed election day ... might allow the States to hold subsequent elections in “exigent” circumstances."

The Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan government panel established after the 2000 Florida recount, came out in 2007 with a handy guide to planning an election amid disaster.

On delaying the election, the guide advises only, "Review existing State law to determine if the Governor has the power to cancel an election or designate alternative methods for distribution of ballots." 

But the authors go on to offer tips on election-organizing. Among the suggestions: 

* Assign a certain percentage of “stand by” poll workers to report to the Election Office on Election morning.

* Use early voting locations as emergency polling places on Election Day.

* Provide instructions in all polling place and supply kits on how to manage a power failure and continue the voting process. 

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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Rachel Weiner | October 30, 2012