How Will Power Outages and Catastrophe Affect the Obama Vote?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 3 2012 8:59 AM

How Will Power Outages and Catastrophe Affect the Obama Vote?

It's an nasty, unavoidable question: What will happen to the voters in storm-hit Mid-Atlantic areas? None of their states had substantial early voting, so all of their residents are expected to show up on Tuesday. Military trucks are bringing power for generators, and in some cases, the military will be running the polling places. It's a challenge to the vote that's hard to compare to anything since the wartime election of 1864. And everyone's sort of shrugging about the effects, because they don't seem to be in swing states.

Domenico Montanaro talked to a professor at George Mason University who studies turnout, and predicts a possible Obama loss of 340,000 votes across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. New Jersey was a close state as recently as 2004, but the maximum Obama loss is estimated at 60,000 votes. That's a couple of percentage points, not enough to swing the election. But Obama's been ticking up in national tracking polls, into a popular vote tie. Technically, it wouldn't matter if Obama won the electoral college but lost the popular vote by, say, 200,000. Political scientists could explain that the random insanity of a single-day election held after a micro-apocalypse cut down the turnout. But Republicans would add it to the "illegitimate president!" quiver.

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And what about Pennsylvania? Mitt Romney's heading there for a momentum-builder single-day rally, claiming that he's a few points north of the public polls and can win the state. According to reports, the city and the burbs are largely back online, with only 10 percent of power still out. But do think about the nightmare of a fluke Romney win that could be tied to low turnout in the area hit by a freak storm. Would Democrats question the new president's legitimacy? Would they have a point?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.