Hurricane Sandy Pours Cold Water on 2012 Campaigns, Absentee Voting
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Senate candidates Tim Kaine, George Allen canceled Virginia campaign events during Hurricane Sandy. Hours extended for absentee voting.
Hurricane Sandy upended the campaign schedules for the presidential race, Virginia's U.S. Senate race and congressional races, and put a temporary halt to some early voting and election officer training in the runup to Election Day next Tuesday.
"I don't want anything to interrupt full participation in democracy as we head into this presidential election," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, in a news conference with reporters Tuesday.
Eight registrars across the state Tuesday were closed — including Arlington County, Falls Church City, Loudoun County and Manassas Park City — due to the storm and could not offer absentee voting. Fairfax County offered absentee voting at Government Center from 4 - 8 p.m. In Alexandria, at least one voting location, at 132 N. Royal St., was open Tuesday for absentee voting.
In Virginia, one of five toss-up states in the presidential race (according to the Huffington Post's Electoral College map projection), the storm led to the cancellation of campaign stops by both candidates. President Barack Obama canceled a joint appearance with former President Bill Clinton on Monday in Prince William County. GOP presidential nominee Gov. Mitt Romney also canceled a campaign stop, to Haymarket in Prince William County, on Sunday.
"One less visit to the state by each candidate won't make much, if any, impact on the outcome," said Mark Rozell, professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. "They both canceled, so no advantage for either one."
Rozell noted, "Perhaps there is some small advantage for the president in this situation, since any crisis is an opportunity for an incumbent to showcase his or her leadership. Obama can look presidential, while Romney can campaign."
Romney's campaign did switch gears a bit this week, putting emphasis on helping storm victims by asking supporters to bring donations of water and nonperishable food to campaign offices. Romney, running mate Congressman Paul Ryan and wife Ann Romney made appearances in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin Tuesday to thank volunteers for their efforts.
Democrat Tim Kaine, the former Virginia governor who is running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, canceled campaign stops Monday and Tuesday. His opponent in the race Republican George Allen tweeted that he would also cancel campaigning Tuesday. Both candidates made a point of asking supporters and potential voters to stay safe and gave tips on how to ride out the storm.
GOP, Democrats Still on Course in Virginia
Has the weather so severely hampered an election? "I do not recall this happening before, although that just may be my faulty memory," said Jay McConville, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee.
McConville said he expects the storm won't dampen Republican voters' enthusiasm for getting out and voting. "I know that people supporting Mitt Romney, George Allen and our great Republican congressional candidates are so motivated that they are going to turn out no matter the weather impacts and ensure that they vote," McConville said. "The choice is clear, our candidates are the best choice for our nation and Virginia. People know how important this is."
"In addition, the Fairfax County elections team is doing all they can to adjust and ensure that we have a smooth, free and fair election," McConville said. "Their efforts are appreciated by us all, and I’m sure will result in a well run election process despite the weather challenges."
David Mills, the executive director of Virginia's Democratic Party, said Tuesday: "There's no doubt that Sandy has impacted many Virginians, but we fully expect that every qualified Virginian who wants to take part in this election will be able to do so without difficulty, either on Election Day or through the absentee process."
"The State has asked local registrars to extend hours for in-person absentee voting, which we hope they will do to make sure we maximize opportunities for Virginians to cast their votes," he said.
"The Democratic Party of Virginia and our campaigns are focusing on getting every last one of our voters out to the polls for Barack Obama, Tim Kaine and our congressional candidates and we're looking forward to a great final stretch leading up to turning Virginia blue on November 6th," Mills said.
Hours for Absentee Voting Extended
"Our friends from the power companies have made that a top priority after hospitals and nursing homes and so forth to restore their power," Gov. McDonnell said. "We anticipate all those will be back within a day or two."
McDonnell said he did not believe there will be any problem at any voting location next Tuesday as a result of the storm.
"We are issuing a letter today to all the voting registrars' offices around the state asking them to stay open for up to eight additional hours to be able to make up for the time that a citizen may not have had to vote absentee over the last two days," McDonnell said. "Those requests have gone out today."
It's uncertain how much it might cost to pay election workers to stay longer hours.
McDonnell said the request that does not change the rules about who is qualified to vote absentee.
"We anticipate all polling places to have power by Election Day," said Justin Riemer, deputy secretary, Virginia State Board of Elections. "There is a provision in the Code that allows a locality to request an emergency polling place relocation. That request has to be granted by the Secretary. The power companies are giving registrar offices and polling places a high priority for power restoration."
"Thus far," Riemer said, "Northern Virginia and some of the areas with the most snowfall, on the West Virginia border, are the most impacted."
Fairfax County Electoral Board announced that there will be absentee voting at the Government Center only today, Tuesday, Oct. 30 (not seven other satellite locations) from 4 to 8 p.m. Anyone in line at 8 p.m. will be able to absentee vote. Absentee voting will resume at the seven satellite locations tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 31 with extended hours noon to 8 p.m. and will resume at the Government Center with regular hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Suite 323.Additional information and absentee voting locations.