The central challenge of the storm that campaigns and government officials began preparing for Monday was how to allow voting to proceed in the event of power loss. State elections officials announced plans to move polling locations, assured the public that most voting equipment operates on batteries and described arrangements with regional utilities to prioritize the restoration of power at hundreds of polling locations across the commonwealth.
Additionally, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) urged local registrars to extend absentee voting hours later in the week to make up for the disruption caused by the closure of dozens of early voting locations Monday and Tuesday.
“Obviously the general election is next Tuesday, and the election is going to have to take place,” said Don Palmer, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections. “There’s nothing in the code to allow for moving Election Day.”
Even before its arrival, Sandy forced President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to cancel scheduled appearances in Virginia this week at a time when both are heavily contesting a state that ranks as one of the year’s top two or three battlegrounds, along with Ohio and Florida.
The storm also forced the closure of local election offices — and suspension of in-person absentee voting — in 26 localities Monday, most of them in the heavily populated Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions. Further closures Tuesday were likely.
Obama’s campaign closed field offices in those areas too, as did the two candidates for Senate, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and Republican George F. Allen. A threatening snowstorm could cause further disruptions in the state’s Appalachian region to the west.
Community events that typically give the campaigns a chance to connect with voters were canceled too — including the annual Halloween parade in Leesburg.
“We are urging everyone to take appropriate safety precautions and to follow the guidance of emergency management and public safety officials,” Obama spokeswoman Marianne Von Nordeck said.
Less clear was how damaging the curtailment of voting and campaign activity would be — or to whom. Absentee voting gave Obama a huge boost in Virginia in 2008, and both the Obama and Romney campaigns are keeping their candidates out of a state that they undoubtedly both would have otherwise barnstormed in the final week of the cycle.
“Obviously, we would have preferred clear skies and a continuation of our get-out-the-vote efforts,” said Brian Moran, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “It means we’ll have to redouble our efforts to make sure that our voters have every opportunity to vote.”