Many people are wondering whether the devastation of Hurricane Sandy will cause the national elections next week to be delayed. The short answer is that it’s possible, but it’s not really so simple. The decision to delay elections is made by the states. The Blaze has a summary of some of the state laws, it’s more straightforward in some states than others. Governors and state election boards are permitted to change the election day if a state of emergency is declared.
The Telegraph reported a few days ago that Craig Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has made a statement to this effect. “We are anticipating that, based on the storm, there could be impacts that would linger into next week and have impacts on the federal election.”
The storm has already affected early voting, and it remains to be determined whether any states will delay the elections. If any states do delay the elections, expect there to be debates about the effect such a decision will have on the elections over all. Is it fair for one state to give voters more time to vote than the voters in another state? What if one state does more to help voters get to the polls? If a state delays the election to help those without power, why couldn’t it delay the election to help those in the military who are unable to vote on time? Will FEMA be accused of preferential treatment in choosing how much to help each state?
The President, however, has no authority to delay the elections. There was some concern when Politico’s Roger Simon asked Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, whether President Obama does have this authority and he replied, “I don’t know.” As have many other media sources, the Wall Street Journal gives the correct answer. The correct answer is no. In 2004 the Congressional Research Service (CRS) examined this question of delaying elections, acknowledging that states can do so if there are emergencies or disputes, but the CRS was clear about the authority of the executive branch. “There is no current constitutional authority residing in the President of the United States, nor the executive branch of Government, to postpone, cancel, or reschedule elections for federal office in the various States.” (From the WSJ) Only Congress can make such a change, as stated in Article 1 – The Legislative Branch, Section 4 – Elections, Meetings.
“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.”
A uniform date for choosing a president was instituted by the Congress in 1845, and firmly maintained so that voters could make any necessary preparations to get to the polls. It was not uncommon for voters to spend most of the day travelling. As the WSJ also noted, “Americans have stuck with the date ever since, along with whatever inconveniences the timing imposes, including the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II.”
It is clear that delaying the election is a serious decision, and it seems that if any states make that decision next week, there will be much to answer for. The national election day is, after all, almost sacred in this country.
What do you think? Will the election be delayed? Should it be? It doesn’t seem like any one state can delay without upsetting the entire election process. As Catholics we understand the importance of honoring certain days even as events and circumstances make it hard at times. We begin this month with a commemoration of all the saints, and must attend Mass on this holy day of obligation. Let’s offer a prayer for those who are suffering from the devastation of the storm, and for guidance in the coming week as our country elects new leaders.
Image source: Hybirdd