What happens if New York and New Jersey can't vote in the presidential election?

Summary:Scheduled to occur just one week after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeast, will the American presidential election be able to go forward on time? ZDNet Government's David Gewirtz shares his analysis.

Will a storm-related drop in turnout change the outcome of the election?

Now we come to the meat of the discussion. Will the storm be a true October surprise? Will it change the outcome?

First, a science fiction moment, if you please. We've all read time travel stories where someone goes back in time, changes an event, and then no one knows the time stream has been changed except for the time traveler.

Since we're all living in this particular time stream and none of us work for the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations, we're unlikely to know if the outcome would have been any different than whatever it is in this reality.

That said, here's some good, high-quality, seat-of-my-pants speculative guessing.

In the Northeast, every state except Maine is a winner-take-all state. That means that if one candidate gets the majority of the popular vote, regardless of the size of the turnout, that state's Electoral College votes go to that candidate. In theory, then, if there are only three voters in New York, and two vote for one candidate, that candidate gets the entire state's ginormous treasure chest of electoral votes.

New York has almost always been blue. New Jersey is a bit more of a toss-up, but not much. New Jersey can almost always be counted on to go blue. The same is true of Connecticut.

Normally, the same could be said for Massachusetts, except that the Codfish State did elect Republican Mitt Romney governor and just recently elected a Republican, Scott Brown, to take over the bluest of blue Senate seats, that of the late Ted Kennedy. Most pre-Sandy polling seems to have indicated that Massachusetts was leaning towards Obama anyway, and it's relatively unlikely Sandy will impact the results in the state.

So the real question is whether the hurricane's impact can sway New York or New Jersey. Some theorize that residents are so upset with the handling of the emergency that they're likely to vote against type. Others theorize that since the President handled the emergency so well, and cuddled so cozily with Republican governor Chris Christie, that even more people are likely to vote for the President.

Here's the thing: New Yorkers and New Jerseyans are among the most stubborn, willful people on the face of the planet. I know. I'm one of them. Almost everyone had pretty much made up his or her mind prior to the storm, and it's extremely unlikely that those votes will change.

What is possible is that the popular vote count, which is normally quite large in these two states, will be smaller. But the ratio is still almost 100% likely to score the Electoral College haul for the President, storm or no storm.

Bottom line: any storm-related drop in turnout is unlikely to change the results.

What about people in the rest of the country? Will it change their vote?

That's an interesting question. Most people are so stuck in their own ideologies that they're very unlikely to change their votes.

But all indications are that this race is quite close. For the past week, President Obama has been flying around, using the backdrop of Marine One and Air Force One, and generally looking presidential. No matter how good Mitt Romney may be, there's just no substitute for the marketing power of the presidency.

The big question is how the suddenly buddy-buddy nature of Christie and Obama will play out nationally.

My guess is that it might move the needle, but if it does, it will only be a blip on the overall election.

Will we see a delayed decision repeat of the 2000 election?

In other words, will the election be too close to call? Will there be recounts? Will there be Supreme Court involvement? Will the House decide the election? Will we have an answer before Christmas?

Probably not. Almost definitely. I don't think so. Can the House decide anything? Yeah, probably.

Although there are a few Electoral College scenarios that place the race too close to call, those are statistically unlikely, and certainly the storm results won't have an impact.

In any election so divided, and with so many potential election irregularities, there are likely to be isolated recounts. But we're unlikely to see hanging chads again, mostly because recounts only matter when a state's results are too close to call otherwise.

Since this race is unlikely to be too close to call, the involvement of the Supremes or the House (other than bloviating) is unlikely.

My guess -- and to be fair, it is a guess -- is we'll know the answer by about 1am ET on Wednesday morning. Worst case, sometime mid-day Wednesday.

Democracy keeps on keepin' on

So, there you go. Sandy may have dealt a devastating blow to many of those living in the Northeast, but she probably won't do much damage to America's ability to elect our leaders.

Go to the polls tomorrow, wherever they may be, and vote.

ZDNet Hurricane Sandy coverage:

ZDNet Government's coverage of Election 2012:

Topics: Security, Government, Government : US


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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