Are states prepared to deal with natural disasters during elections? A new report out Wednesday says while progress has been made, there’s room for improvement. With much of the East Coast facing the threat of another serious winter storm, the National Association of Secretaries of State is unveiling a report that looks at the current state of emergency preparedness of the nation’s elections rules, and makes recommendations for states to better prepare for the unexpected. Spurred by the landfall of Hurricane Sandy days before the November 2012 election, NASS formed a task force of secretaries of state and elections officials from 24 states last January to assess what could be done in such cases. The task force will present their findings Thursday to elections officials from around the country. The group found that only 12 of the 37 states that responded to its survey have laws dealing with postponing an election, and only 11 require contingency planning by law. Nevertheless, a majority of states have proactively developed such plans, they found.
Riot police have deployed teargas and batons in Ukraine to repress a protest march against a new law that boosts the status of the Russian language inside the former Soviet country. Hundreds of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev to protest against the law, which opposition deputies warn could divide the country in two and thrust one half of it into the arms of neighbouring Russia. The law, adopted amid fistfights in parliament late on Tuesday, gives Russian the status of regional language, approving its use in courts, schools and other government institutions in the country’s Russian-speaking southern and eastern regions. Ukrainian remains the country’s only official federal language. It has heightened divisions between those hoping to strengthen Ukraine’s independent post-Soviet identity and those seeking to maintain close links with Russia, a fracture that has haunted the country since the Orange Revolution in 2004. “With this law, the Russian language will become a de facto government language for eastern Ukraine,” said Ksenya Lyapina, an opposition deputy. “It’s very dangerous for Ukraine. It can lead to the division of the country.”
County election officials rocked and rolled with the punches, even as the Aug. 23 earthquake briefly threw a wrench into operations at precincts across Arlington. But the show went on: Polls closed on time at 7 p.m., and the first results were in four minutes later.
“Everybody handled it beautifully,” Registrar Linda Lindberg said of staff at the 51 precincts, who like the rest of the local area were jolted by the 5.8-magnitude quake just before 2 p.m. on the day of the commonwealth’s primary election.
Yesterday’s East Coast earthquake – centered near Mineral, VA but felt up and down the Atlantic seaboard and as far west as Chicago – was and will be a big story for several days (and a source of endless eye-rolling from the West Coast).
It’s worth noticing, however, that the earthquake didn’t appear to stop Virginia from conducting a primary election in communities across the Commonwealth. There were scattered reports of brief evacuations and voting in parking lots, but generally people soldiered on. [The Virginia State Board of Elections’ Twitter feed has a nice chronology of events.]
In the aftermath, there will be lots of discussion about what lessons to draw from Tuesday’s events. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s blog came out quickly with a post detailing numerouscontingency planning resources that election offices should consult to be prepared for emergency situations that inevitably arise. Resources like these are crucial to the field and should be required reading for anyone responsible for the smooth operation of voting on Election Day.