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Voting disruptions should be minimal in Pennsylvania

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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — The storm that devastated parts of the Northeast likely won't prevent Pennsylvanians from voting on Tuesday, but no one is certain how New York and New Jersey will accommodate the election, political experts said.

Power cut by superstorm Sandy, heavily concentrated in Southeastern Pennsylvania, likely will be restored within five days, officials said. About 740,000 utility customers remained without power on Wednesday, down from 1.25 million at the storm's peak.

The Department of State requested that crews make voting precincts a priority when restoring power, but utility regulators said critical care and life-threatening situations would come first.

“We are confident counties will be able to conduct next Tuesday's election without significant disruption,” said Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman.

After speaking with utility company executives, Gov. Tom Corbett, touring the southeast part of the state, said he expects power to be restored at polling places.

“If a voting precinct does not have power, it will become a priority, after critical care,” said Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley.

Crews have time to restore power for electronic voting machines and, in a worst-case scenario, could use paper ballots, said Larry Otter, an election law expert from Bucks County.

“If (the storm) had been a day or two before the election, it would have been an unmitigated disaster,” Otter said.

Voting machines have backup batteries that last about six hours, and officials could stagger the use of battery-powered machines, Ruman said. The department recommended that counties keep a supply of paper ballots equal to 20 percent of registered voters, he said.

“I don't get any sense there will be a huge problem,” said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster with Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

In New York and New Jersey, where flooding engulfed towns and displaced residents, “some people may not be able to vote,” Madonna said. He doesn't believe that would affect the outcome of the presidential election.

“My gut is no one is going to postpone the election,” said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Bare.

Congress sets the date of the election. States hit hard by the storm, such as New Jersey, could take a liberal interpretation of the voting date — allow most people to vote on Nov. 6 and “expand” the date for later voting by those displaced through no fault of their own, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said he can't begin to think about the election when people's lives and homes are at stake.

“They could set up stations where people could (vote) more easily,” Borick said. “I don't think anyone has answered these questions yet.”

Otter and several others said their situation could lead to litigation, if people are disenfranchised by the storm.

“I hate to think this is going to be like 2000,” when the country watched the Florida recount on TV, Baldino said. Republican George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote but Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote.

“This is going to be a field day for election lawyers” in New Jersey and New York, Otter predicted.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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