Sandy Causes Troubles for State Elections Officials
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
After churning through the East Coast and leaving millions without electricity, Hurricane Sandy left elections officials with major obstacles, particularly in states where early voting was already under way. Here’s a look at states where the voting process has been affected:
Connecticut had no early voting to disrupt. Governor Dannel Malloy did, however, sign an executive order to extend the deadline for in-person voter registration two days to Thursday (November 1) at 8 p.m.
“Considering the emergency situation our state is facing, it is neither practical nor wise at this time for people to travel to their town halls so they can meet the deadline to hand in their voter registration applications in person, as the law requires,” Malloy said in a statement. “Safety is our top priority, and the best thing to do to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised because of the storm is to extend the deadline until after the hurricane has passed.”
The state is still assessing what other adjustments — if any — will be needed before Election Day. Secretary of State Denise Merrill plans to hold a conference call Wednesday with hundreds of local elections officials, the Associated Press reports. If polling places remain without power, the state could change sites for Election Day or combine precincts — if Republican and Democratic registrars agree to such changes.
Early voting resumed on Wednesday after it was canceled on Monday and Tuesday. Voting will occur between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. through Friday, extended hours that should make up all but an hour of the time lost. Significant problems persist in Western Maryland, where some remain without power or are snowed in, Governor Martin O’Malley said at a news conference. But Maryland State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone told POLITICO that things will “absolutely” proceed as planned for Election Day.
Though it was among the states most devastated by the storm, New Jersey has yet to announce any changes related to voting.
"Right now I'm much more concerned about preventing any other loss of life, getting people to safe places,” Governor Chris Christie said, according to CNN. "Then we'll worry about the election. The election will take care of itself.”
As in New Jersey, New York officials have yet to announce any changes related to the election as they focus on picking up the pieces left by Sandy. An announcement on the State Board of Elections website simply states that poll site information may change.
Early voting has been hampered in parts of North Carolina, which were hit by the storm’s high winds and rain – and also snow. Polling sites in four counties that have coastal areas have closed, the Charlotte Observer reported, but officials don’t expect the storm will play much of a role on Election Day. As of Wednesday, the state had not announced changes to hours or deadlines.
Pennsylvania does not offer early voting, but Sandy forced closures at many elections offices just as deadlines loomed for voters to acquire absentee ballots. Recognizing those difficulties, Governor Tom Corbett signed an executive order on Monday extending the deadline, originally set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, to Friday. Deadlines in each county will depend upon how many days an elections office was closed.
As the Washington Post notes, office closures created a backlog in processing new voter registrations, which reportedly stood at 28,000 on Tuesday. Getting the polls open by Election Day could be a problem, the paper notes, because more than 1 million people are still without power, which could take a week to restore.
Early voting was canceled Monday and Tuesday, but will resume Wednesday, the District Board of Elections says. The board is extending voting hours to 9 p.m. to accommodate those who wished to vote earlier in the week or who were discouraged by long lines on Saturday. Anticipating heavy turnout, the board has added extra voting machines at each site, it says.
Both President Obama and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin have declared states of emergency in the state, but most polling sites remain open for early voting. On Wednesday, voting had been suspended in just two counties, according to the secretary of state’s website.
Nine local voter registration offices remained closed Tuesday, having lost power during the storm. More than 20 had closed on Monday. Governor Bob McDonnell has instructed registration offices to remain open for a total of eight extra hours through Saturday, the deadline for casting absentee ballots in person, the Washington Post reports. Each office will post its extended hours on its website. As the Post notes, Democrats tend to make up the majority of early voters in Virginia.
McDonnell told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that crews would consider restoring power to polling places “a priority moved up to the same level as hospitals and police stations to have power restored."