Hurricane Sandy could deliver jolt to the election

Alex Brandon

State and local governments all along the east coast of the continental United States are preparing for a potentially destructive Category 1 hurricane, called Hurricane Sandy, expected to make strike the northeast Sunday night. And in addition to the immediate human cost, the storm—which is expected to strike several swing states currently conducting early in-person voting—could have significant political consequences. One state has already cancelled early voting.

The storm is expected to strike several swing states where early voting is underway. The inclement weather could suppress voter turnout.

“Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe the more people who come out, the better we’re going to do,” said David Axelrod Sunday morning. But safety, he emphasized, was the major concern.

The federal government is closed on Monday.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered a mandatory evacuation of low-lying coastal areas in the city, and public transit will be temporarily shut down at 7 PM Sunday night. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo has also declared a state of emergency and put the National Guard on alert.

“Get indoors. Prepare your homes,” said Cuomo in a Sunday morning press conference. “This is nothing to play with. Don’t take it lightly.”

The hurricane has been dubbed “Frankenstorm,” as it has merged with a cold front from the west to become larger and more destructive than previously anticipated.

If the hurricane does have a significant effect on turnout in swing states such as North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, it could be good news for Mitt Romney—according to the Columbus Dispatch, ”blacks disproportionately cast in-person early votes in 2008.” Ohio Secretary of State John Husted’s failed bid to restrict early voting in the state has been criticized by some as an attempt to suppress traditionally Democratic-leaning constituencies like African Americans.

On CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, said the state was preparing for threats to the power grid and planning on extended hours for voting. “We’ve got about 2,000 additional people that are coming into Virginia to help our power suppliers, and the state Board of Elections is already planning for extended hours in advance for absentee voting,” he said, “and it’s now a priority—moved up to the same level as hospitals and police stations—to have power restored, so we don’t anticipate the problem.”

Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have canceled planned events in states that will be hit by the storm. Obama will visit FEMA headquarters on Sunday to be brief on Hurricane Sandy, then proceed to a campaign event in Florida.

New Jersey and Connecticut have also both declared states of emergency. Sandy is expected to be worse than last fall’s Hurricane Irene, which caused millions to lose power.

Hurricane Sandy has already swept through the Caribbean, leaving at least 51 Haitians dead and roughly 200,000 homeless. In Cuba, eleven people are reported dead. The storm has also already struck South Florida, leaving power outages and infrastructure damage in its wake.

If you are in one of the areas to be struck by the hurricane, the Washington Post has advice on how to prepare.

UPDATE: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has announced that early voting in his state is cancelled on Monday.

Due to the storm, we will be canceling early voting statewide tomorrow. #MDSandy #Vote

— Martin O’Malley (@GovernorOMalley) October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy could deliver jolt to the election