Hurricane Matthew is significantly earlier in the election than Sandy was — early October vs. late October — and we still don’t know precisely how much it will affect Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. So it’s very early to talk about political implications. But given Florida’s status as a hugely important swing state (and even Georgia’s status as a surprising battleground), there will be plenty of debate about the political impact the storm could have come Nov. 8. And the political fight over it has already begun, with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Thursday declining the request of Democrats to extend voter registration in that state. Here are three ways in which storms like this can affect elections — along with whether there’s evidence they actually do.
1. Reducing turnout
The most obvious way in which storms can affect elections is by depressing turnout.
Given the states hardest hit by Sandy were all blue ones, a decline in turnout in 2012 wouldn’t have had an effect on the actual outcome. But there was evidence Sandy kept at least some voters from voting.
A study by Rice University professor Robert M. Stein in 2015 found the following:
- “Turnout declined on average 2.8 percent between 2008 and 2012 in counties in which disaster declarations were issued for Hurricane Sandy. Voter turnout declined only 0.8 percent in all other U.S. counties.”
- “Early voting increased significantly in unaffected counties between 2008 (14 percent) and 2012 (16 percent), while also increasing by 2 percent in counties most adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
- “As expected the number of polling places declined in counties most adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy. In 2008 these counties operated 1.1 polling places per 1,000 registered voters; in 2012 this figure declined to 1.0 polling places per 1,000 registered voters, a statistically significant change in the number of polling places.”
And then there is the matter of voter registration and Scott’s decision not to extend it. “Everybody’s had a lot of time to register,” Scott said. “On top of that, we have lots of opportunities to vote, early voting and absentee voting, so I don’t intend to make any changes.”