WASHINGTON — The devastating storm that slammed into the United States East Coast last week could send winds of uncertainty through today’s presidential election, narrowing an already close contest and casting doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome.
Report by Reuters
Though superstorm Sandy is unlikely to determine whether President Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney wins the White House, experts said it could expose flaws in how the US conducts elections, leading to protracted legal wrangling and lingering bitterness in a country already fractured along partisan lines.
In a worst-case scenario, the storm disruption could cause Obama to lose the popular vote and still win re-election, stirring up vitriolic memories of the contested 2000 battle that allowed Republican George Bush to triumph over Democrat Al Gore.
Last-minute changes imposed by election officials could further arm campaign lawyers looking to challenge the result.
At minimum, low turnout would add another wild card to an election projected to be among the closest in US history.
Voting could be an afterthought for hundreds of thousands of people still struggling with power outages, fuel shortages and plummeting temperatures.
“It’s a possibility that we’ll see significant drops in turnout in some of these densely populated areas,” said George Mason University professor Michael MacDonald, a voter turnout expert.
“The effects could be quite dramatic in terms of the popular vote,” he said.
Today’s election presents yet another headache for local officials in New York and New Jersey, which were hardest hit by the storm.
Rescue workers are still recovering bodies. 1,9 million homes and businesses have no power and tens of thousands of people are without heat as temperatures dip near freezing.
Sandy, one of the most damaging storms to hit the US, hammered the region with 129km-per-hour winds, while walls of water overran seaside communities.
At least 113 people in the US and Canada died.
Election authorities now face unprecedented challenges.
In New York City, 143 000 voters have been assigned new polling stations.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday called the city’s elections board “dysfunctional” and warned that it needs to clearly communicate changes to poll workers.
In New Jersey, where 25% of homes and businesses have no power, officials are allowing displaced voters to cast their ballots by email. In battered Monmouth County, officials are spreading the word about new polling locations in at least 29 towns and setting aside paper ballots to use if electronic voting machines fail.
Legal experts said the late changes, however well-intentioned, may give the losing candidate a basis to challenge results.
The post-Sandy chaos also could expose flaws in the arcane electoral college system the US uses to elect presidents.
Candidates are not required to win the popular vote nationwide, but they must amass a majority of the 538 “electoral votes” that are awarded to each state based on population.