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Sandy could still postpone presidential election as millions remain without power

Published time: October 31, 2012 17:23
Edited time: October 31, 2012 21:23
(AFP Photo / Joe Raedle)

(AFP Photo / Joe Raedle)

Six days until Americans hit the polls, much of the Northeast is still under water and tens of millions of Americans are left to suffer in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Does that mean next week’s presidential election could be postponed?

In short, yes. While there are legal routes to reschedule Election Day — albeit complicated, convoluted and practically impossible ones — Americans will still likely have only until November 6 to cast a ballot for the next president of the United States. As millions are still assessing the damage caused by Sandy, though, this week’s storm could greatly impact who can make it to the voting booths and how likely they’ll be able to cast a ballot without complications.

By Tuesday, the New York Times reported that 8.2 million households were left without electricity, with more than a fifth of those powerless residing in the crucial swing states that can make or break the election. But while Congress can, in theory, order the presidential election to occur on a day that isn’t "the Tuesday after the first Monday in November” as declared by federal law, most experts agree things are likely to continue as planned.

For starters, lawmakers in Washington are currently on recess, likely either campaigning for their own re-election bids or buying support from voters by aiding in the aftermath of Sandy. Even if they were to reconvene on Capitol Hill in the coming days and introduce a change, however, it could very likely only cause further complications: Congress can only make adjustments to the presidential election schedule, leaving state and local offices to either independently make new dates for smaller-scale contests or else require voters to make two separate trips to the polls.

Not only would postponing votes in some states mean more than just scrambling to find a second, fair and agreeable Election Day, though. Locales across America would also be left to find ways to fund another full day of operating polling places, and employers in those districts would likely have to let workers stay home so they could get to the polls, potentially devastating an economy already suffering from damage brought by the storm.

Even if one state flooded out by Hurricane Sandy wanted to make changes, the result could alter the election for the rest of the country, too.

"If voting were disrupted and postponed in one state, then we will likely know the results in all the other states before voting can resume in the affected state,” election expert John Fortier tells NBC News. “If the affected state or states are determinative of the Electoral College outcome, the pressure and focus on that one state would be enormous."

Weighing in with National Public Radio, Fortier opines, “It is not a good thing to postpone an election.”

“Obviously if there's a necessity, you can't do it, there has to be some accommodation. But how that accommodation is done is murky territory,” he tells NPR. “You don't want to go down that road unless you absolutely have to.”

Steven Huefner, professor at Ohio State's Moritz College of Law, adds to ABC News that any states that decide to postpone the election, though possible, would be posed with even bigger fish to fry.

"For those states that don't already have an election emergency process in place, any departure from the established election process could easily give rise to court challenges about the legitimacy of the election," Huefner says. "Even states with an emergency plan might find themselves facing litigation over specific ways in which they've implemented their emergency plan."

When President Barack Obama was asked if he was concerned about the fate of the election only hours after Sandy touched down on the East Coast, he told reporters, “The election will take care of itself next week.”

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