Hurricane Sandy Disrupts Early Voting

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) Updated Wednesday, October 31, 2012 — Damage and power outages could slow the pace of early voting in the three swing states of Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina — and has already led to major changes in the campaign schedules of President Obama and Mitt Romney.


Early voting had already been suspended for safety reasons in places including Maryland and Washington, D.C., but not before the threat of inclement weather led to long lines at polling places. In West Virginia, early voting had been suspended in several counties on Tuesday. Some experts expressed concern that the suspensions could lead to low voter turnout in communities of color.

Judith Browne Dianis, who did early voting on Sunday in Prince George's County in Maryland, told The Root that she waited seven hours in line with many others who were trying to beat the storm to ensure that their votes would be counted. Noting that she was voting in a predominantly black area, the attorney, who is co-director of the Advancement Project, said the fact that so many people in line with her were African American "debunks the whole enthusiasm-gap issue."

That being said, the hurricane could affect voter turnout in communities of color, she acknowledged. "There is a concern [about] what steps election officials will take if we have the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy," said Dianis, whose organization is focused on removing obstacles to voter turnout on Nov. 6. "There's the power outages that might last a week."

"The obstacles created by the storm are likely to affect voter turnout across the board in storm-hit areas, but especially in communities where voter turnout is traditionally lower than the norm, like African-American communities," she explained. Fewer resources to address the obstacles created by a natural disaster play a part. "If you don't have access to public transportation because the city has shut it down, and if you don't have electricity, then you're probably not trying to go anywhere," she said.

Of particular concern to her are what measures will be taken in Sandy-affected battleground states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania and even Ohio. "Hopefully election officials are starting to think through emergency plans, just in case." She added that the Advancement Project will monitor whether emergency plans are being made in those states, meeting with local and state election officials about those plans, and even filing lawsuits when they deem it necessary.

Meanwhile, Dianis urges everyone to check with their local election officials or go online, if they have access, to see if there have been changes in polling places and changes to early voting dates, such as cancellations. "People just need to keep informed, and don't let this be the excuse for you not to participate," she said.