October 31, 2012
A reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney if the President has the power to move election day because of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. Immediately after the question was asked, the media sprang into action citing precedents for postponing elections.
Looking at U.S. history, it is clear that there is no precedent for postponing a national presidential election, even in the midst of foreign or domestic wars. Moreover, the President lacks the constitutional authority to alter or postpone a national election; the election timetable is specified by statute of Congress as authorized by the Constitution.
In 225 years, the United States has never postponed a presidential election. Elections were still carried out as scheduled during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. And as catastrophic as Hurricane Sandy was in the Northeast, it does not compare to war:
As disruptive as hurricanes are, wars are much more so. Considering that the United States has maintained a regular and uninterrupted national election schedule for more than two centuries, including in times of devastating war, Hurricane Sandy would seem an odd and unlikely reason to postpone the presidential election. Not unlike 1864, it is an opportunity to prove to the world that the American people’s government can sustain a national election even in the aftermath of a terrible hurricane. As such, 2012 is yet another milestone of continuity for America’s experiment in constitutional self-government.
Legally, who has the power to adjust elections? Carney told the reporters that he didn’t know. In fact, if a national election were rescheduled, it would have to be the result of congressional legislation. The President has no such powers, Smith says:
Congress would have to amend the statute setting the timetable of presidential elections since 1854 (3 U.S.C. § 1) as the “Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President”
Do you think the election should be postponed because of Hurricane Sandy?