As Hurricane Sandy, now downgraded to a "superstorm," churns inland, officials in states on or near the coast are assessing the damage left in Sandy's wake. In addition to the tragic deaths of at least 17 people, there are millions without power across several states; flooded roads and damaged infrastructure; and thousands who remain evacuated from danger zones. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said it may take eight days to fully restore power to his state, raising concerns that New Jersey may not be prepared for Election Day. If other states are experiencing similar logistical problems, would it be possible to reschedule?
Technically, yes. The power to delay elections, even federal ones, lies with the states, says L.V. Anderson at Slate:
The details of the postponement would vary state by state. Many states have constitutional provisions or statutes that detail their ability to suspend or reschedule an election in the event of an emergency... As for states without specific provisions of statutes, the governor could still reasonably use his or her emergency powers to suspend the election during a state of emergency.
In addition, Congress has the right to determine when federal elections will take place. Since 1845, presidential elections have been held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and that could hypothetically be changed. However, the truth is that there is so little precedent for such a delay that it could very well set off a constitutional crisis, says Ben Jacobs at The New Republic:
The solution would not be guided by statute since there is so little precedent but instead by what is both expedient and politically acceptable. The basic statutory framework and handful of court cases would be a guide, not an answer. Instead, like any other response to a natural disaster, adjusting Election Day would simply require improvising.
To avoid that kind of messiness, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell is focusing on rehabilitating polling centers, says Rachel Weiner at The Washington Post:
[Officials] are focusing on arranging with power companies to restore power first to polling locations. They are also making sure voting equipment is battery-operated and that batteries are charged. And they are setting up contingency polling places in the event that polling locations are unusable for reasons going beyond power issues, such as flooding.
Some have taken issue with the whole notion of delaying the election. Jonah Goldberg at The National Review says voters need to grow a thicker hide:
[This] country held elections during the Civil War!...
This country is so bizarrely schizophrenic about voting it drives me crazy. We are constantly bathed in platitudes about how vital, wonderful, special, glorious and sacred voting is. But don’t you dare ask the American people to put the slightest bit of effort into the practice. It must be convenient. It must be easy. It must be on my timetable, like a DVR’d episode of Nashville or The Price is Right. Why not ask the American people to demonstrate that they appreciate the importance of voting?