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Storm aftermath not likely to delay election

Could the vast disruption caused by Sandy prompt a delay in the Nov. 6 presidential election?  Voting may be extensively disrupted in some of the swing states, including Virginia and Ohio.

MSNBC's Chris Jansing talks with NBC's Pete Williams about the impact Superstorm Sandy may have on the election, and the issues that would surround a possible postponement of the presidential election.

The answer is, yes, it could undoubtedly be delayed.  But it almost certainly won't be.

The Constitution gives Congress the authority to establish the day for presidential elections, and since 1845, a federal law has set the date as "the Tuesday after the first Monday in November." Congress could change the date, just as it could change any federal statute. But it would have to act quickly.

And of course, it's the states, not the federal government, that run elections in America.  Many states in areas not affected by Sandy's wrath would be likely to oppose a delay and its attendant costs. They could choose to go ahead with their elections for all but president and have a separate election for president later.  But such a move would undoubtedly suppress the turnout. 

Past disasters, including weather emergencies, have forced postponement of state and local elections.  New York state suspended its primary election in 2001 -- on September 11th, the day of the suicide hijack attacks. But few states have a regular procedure for doing it.  Florida, with its long experience in dealing with hurricanes, is one of the few with specific procedures in place, allowing the governor to suspend or delay elections.

Andrew Burton / Getty Images

Superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday evening on a destructive and deadly path across the Northeast.

John Fortier, a nationally respected expert on presidential elections, points out additional problems, writing on a blog sponsored by the Moritz School of Law at Ohio State University. 

"If voting were disrupted and postponed in one state," Fortier says, "then we will likely know the results in all the other states before voting can resume in the affected state. If the affected state or states are determinative of the electoral college outcome, the pressure and focus on that one state would be enormous."

Among other questions, he says, are what to do with votes already cast.

Finally, consider the fact that never before the U.S. history has a presidential election been postponed or canceled, not even during the Civil War.

Reuters, Getty Images

In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.