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Hurricane Sandy raises questions whether elections are postponed

One question posed to White Press Secretary Jay Carney has real life ramifications — could Hurricane Sandy delay national elections set for Tuesday, Nov. 6?

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell took up the cause following the news conference and posted the question to Chuck Todd: “We’ve seen in the past situations where power is not restored, in our own region here, for days, for more than a week -- for 10 days. What happens if we get to election day and they don’t have power? Which you need for many of these election booths, for the voting booths, which you need for people to get to the polls. Is there any precedent for doing something such as postponing a national election?”

It poses an interesting senario. Sandy is taking a bead on the Northeast, which is an Obama stronghold. If the hurricane hits and takes out power for an extended period of time, it could hurt the president’s chances of defeating Mitt Romney.

Chuck Todd, NBC White House correspondent answered Mitchell’s question: “Well, look, elections are run by state and local officials. The federal government does not run the elections as it is. Look, there is some precedence to this. During 9/11, on 9/11, was the New York City mayoral race and they delayed everything. You know, it would have to be up to a local authority to do that but that local authority — I think, look, you’re going to be getting into provisional ballot issues.”

In 1845 Congress passed a law establishing that the day for choosing presidential electors would be every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Nothing short of an act of Congress would change the date. Unless, however, the president decides to issue an executive order.

Only once in recent history has an election been threatened. “The (George W.) Bush administration is reported to be investigating the possibility of postponing the presidential election in the event of a terror attack,” said a BBC report published on July 12, 2004.

Just a side note: No U.S. presidential election has ever been delayed or canceled. It would require an overwhelming emergency that makes it impossible to proceed with an election, such as a nuclear war.

Keith Hansen