Sandy Likely To Have An Impact On Election Turnout

Officials from President Obama on down warn that the destruction caused by Sandy will take a long while to clean up. Election Day is less than a week away, and in some places where the storm struck, it's likely to have an impact on turnout and, conceivably, the outcome.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One thing that's being talked about in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy is its possible political effect. That's because the storm hit just a week before the presidential election, and in some places, it is likely to have an impact on turnout, and so, conceivably, the outcome. NPR's Brian Naylor has more.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Like the presidential election itself, the story of Hurricane Sandy varies from state to state. In Ohio, for instance, perhaps the most closely contested of any state, the impact appears rather minimal. Early voting is already under way. Dana Walsh, the deputy director of elections in Franklin County - that's Columbus - says Monday was a record day for turnout there, despite the weather.

DANA WALSH: We had a very bad weather day here with rain and sleet and snow and very cold temperatures, but our early vote center here in Franklin County still set a one-day record for the number of people we actually voted in person yesterday. So we have not seen any adverse affects yet of the weather.

NAYLOR: In the toss-up state of Virginia, the storm has taken a greater toll. Thousands are without power. A heavy snowfall in the western mountains has already caused one county to seek permission to change the location of one of its polling places. Justin Riemer, the deputy secretary of the Virginia Board of Elections, says there is precedent for such a move.

JUSTIN RIEMER: In 2011, in August when we had the earthquake, that was actually a primary day, and we had several localities request emergency polling place relocations. And we approved those and got them out the door very quickly.

NAYLOR: Riemer adds if relocations are necessary, officials are stationed at the original polling place to make sure voters know where to go to cast their ballot. Pennsylvania is less of a battleground, but the Obama campaign is counting on a big turnout in Philadelphia. Sandy passed right over the city, but without much damage, which brings us to New Jersey. It and New York City bore the brunt of the storm and the effects, including power outages and flooding, are likely to linger for some time.

Both New York and New Jersey are reliably Democratic, so the outcome isn't expected to change if turnout diminishes, but New Jersey does raise an interesting scenario. Some pundits have speculated there's a slight possibility that President Obama might win the Electoral College and the presidency, while Mitt Romney could win the popular vote.

If a substantial number of Obama supporters in New Jersey can't make it to the polls Tuesday, the chances of such a result would seem to increase. Cliff Zukin teaches political science at Rutgers. He spoke on a cell phone because his power is out.

CLIFF ZUKIN: Well, I certainly think it's got to depress turnout. I think that it's going to be harder for millions in the state to get to the polls. We have power outages, you know, in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. So people are going to be pretty much preoccupied with getting their own lives back rather than taking what's really a public act.

NAYLOR: And so it may have been easier to predict the path of Hurricane Sandy than its impact on the election. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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