Hurricane Sandy spurred Maryland to suspend its early voting program for a second day on Tuesday and forced the closing of some early voting sites in battleground states like North Carolina and Virginia. But the bigger question that many state and county elections officials in storm-battered states were asking themselves was how to get ready for Election Day next week. The obstacles are formidable. More than 8.2 million households were without power by midday Tuesday, with more than a fifth of them in swing states — a potential problem in an age when the voting process, which once consisted of stuffing paper ballots into boxes, has been electrified. Roads were impassable in some states, and mass transportation was hobbled in others. And Postal Service disruptions threatened to slow the delivery of absentee ballots to election boards.
The storm revived an uncomfortable debate, last raised after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, about what to do in the event that a disaster interfered with an election. (The attacks led New York City to postpone its mayoral primary, which was already in progress that morning when the hijacked airplanes hit the World Trade Center.)
There are legal ways to change the date of a presidential election, said Jerry H. Goldfeder, a prominent election lawyer and special counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. One would require Congress to choose a new date. It was not until 1845 that Congress decided there should be a single date for presidential electors to be chosen in the states, the Tuesday immediately following the first Monday in November.
But there is also a federal law that gives states the opportunity to try again if they fail to choose electors on Election Day. “Whenever any State has held an election for the purpose of choosing electors, and has failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law, the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such State may direct,” the law says.