Hurricane Sandy Creates More Challenges to Voting

October 31, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

In a number of states, Republican lawmakers have gone to great lengths to make voting a major pain. The Department of Justice, civil liberties groups and others have successfully fought to blunt many of those efforts. Now, in addition to Republican eagerness to limit voting, Hurricane Sandy has wrought large swaths devastation on the East Coast. Not only did Sandy knock out some early voting times in several states, it has left many of them with more work to ensure they will be prepared for Election Day.

Michael Cooper, in a piece for The New York Times, says 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.”

Cooper’s piece notes that federal law gives states the ability to choose electors on a “subsequent day,” if they fail to do so on Election Day. But “prominent election lawyer Jerry H. Goldfeder says that while it may be legally “simple,” for states to choose how they might provide more voting opportunities after Election Day, “historically, politically and logistically, it would be highly extraordinary and unique event in American history.” Goldfeder said it likely makes more sense for Congress to clarify federal law to provide for a unified response to elections impacted by terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

Some states as Cooper notes have restored some early voting periods. (For example, Maryland Gov. Martin O’ Malley ordered early voting centers to reopen on Oct. 31 and extended early voting until 9 p.m. on Nov. 2 at those centers.)

Like the rightwing activists who cheer on efforts to make voting as arduous as possible, especially for certain groups of people, like those who have to hold down multiple jobs or those who work incredibly long hours, or the elderly or college students, a gaggle of rightists quickly bemoaned any discussion of how to handle obstacles created by Hurricane Sandy.

As Salon’s Alex Pareene notes some rightists can’t stop their rhetorical attacks on voting even during “mega-storms.” For example, the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg bemoaned the rather “unlikely” plans of delaying Election Day, wondering why Americans can’t put more effort into participating in democracy. “It must be convenient,” Goldberg whined. “It must be easy.”

But Victoria Bassetti, author of Electoral Dysfunction, goes in the opposite direction and wonders why America is bent on burdening the voter, like other countries such as the Bahamas, Belize and Burundi.  We should be encouraging voter turnout by removing the hurdles, she has written. Moreover, as Loyola law school professor Justin Levitt wrote earlier this year in an ACS Issue Brief, rigid voter ID laws, restrictions on voter registration drives and early voting periods are poor policy, in part, because they disproportionately constraint the ability of minorities, low-income and urban people to vote.