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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

FEMA is Preparing for Hurricane Sandy to Possibly Disrupt Next Week’s Elections

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for Hurricane Sandy to disrupt next week’s elections, agency Administrator Craig Fugate said Monday afternoon.

“We are anticipating that, based on the storm, there could be impacts that would linger into next week and have impacts on the federal election,” Fugate said on a conference call with reporters.

But any potential tinkering with Election Day would bring a bevy of legal issues.

“Our chief counsel’s been working on making sure that we have the proper guidance,” he added. “We’re going through the regulatory policy and making sure all that’s in place and we can support it.”

Fugate did not address whether the election could be delayed — a question that federal officials said last week is up for states to decide.

“Whether the election can be postponed or not is a legal black hole,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. “There’s very little precedent for such an act.”

Federal law requires presidential elections to be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, but it also provides that if a state “has failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law, the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such State may direct.”

In case of emergencies that threaten to disrupt voting, the federal Election Assistance Commission advises state election officials to “review existing State law to determine if the Governor has the power to cancel an election or designate alternative methods for distribution of ballots.”

At the moment, Fugate said, authorities don’t have enough information about Sandy’s impacts.

“It’s really too early to say what will be the impacts of the storm, and that’s why it’s again important that we’ll be supporting the governors’ teams and their supervisors of election or secretaries of state as they determine what … assistance they may need,” he said.

That lack of information also extends to legal circles, which have only just today begun to discuss the issue, Winkler said.

One primary issue is that any weather bad enough to postpone an election would likely have to be catastrophic in scale, UCLA Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions Director Daniel Lowenstein wrote to POLITICO in an email.

“There is always likely to be some bad weather somewhere and various other kinds of problems on Election Day,” he said. “To warrant any kind of postponement of the election, it would have to be truly extraordinary and pretty widespread.” 

Based on what little legal precedent there is -- most of which is because of concerns over terrorism -- plus the role of the states in administering elections, the president and Congress aren't very likely to step in, according to Winkler.

A prominent example is New York's Sept. 11, 2001, mayoral primary was postponed due to the terrorist attacks on that city.

Winkler also pointed to the 2004 election, during which concerns about terrorist attacks disrupting the election swirled.

The House of Representatives that year overwhelming passed a resolution declaring that "the actions of terrorists will never cause the date of any Presidential election to be postponed; and ... no single individual or agency should be given the authority to postpone the date of a Presidential election."

Then-Sen. Joe Biden rejected the idea of setting up a contingency plan to postpone an election, saying it would only give terrorists new resolve.

"I think that is the worst idea in the world," Biden said in a 2004 interview on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," according to a transcript. "Essentially acknowledging to the whole world we think we're going to be attacked before this happens, I think it is absolutely mindless with all due respect."

The symbolism behind postponing an election because of a terrorist attack versus a natural disaster is very different, Winkler said -- but the legal mechanism is pretty much the same.

If Sandy presents enough of an issue for Congress to intervene, then lawmakers might be more willing to do so because there is no enemy to dissuade.

"What we've seen in past elections is that the parties will come together to solve an emergency crisis that interferes with voting," Winkler said. "So while the law is unclear, I think the parties would come together should any serious emergency arise and find a pragmatic, workable solution."

"Wouldn't that be nice for a change?" he added jokingly.

Of course, expect any change to Election Day to bring a host of lawsuits.

Without much precedent to go on, though, Winkler predicts courts will back up any changes made in Sandy's wake.

"Just as the parties tend to come together to solve these kinds of crises, the courts usually recognize the legitimacy of these pragmatic workarounds," Winkler said.

A 2004 Congressional Research Service report notes that there is no constitutional instruction or federal law on postponing a federal election.

However, the report theorizes that presidential emergency power could be used to delay an election -- specifically, if "attacks, disruptions and destruction are so severe and so dangerous in certain localities, particularly in crowded urban areas, that the President under a rule of necessity may look to protect the public safety by federalizing State national guard and restricting movement and activities in such areas which would obviously affect the ability to conduct an election at those sites."

Congress could also theoretically step in and pass a law or give that power to the president, the report says. Courts have typically left it up to Congress to set election procedures.


EARLY, Heavy Snowfall Catches Muscovites Unprepared

Abnormally heavy snowfall left Muscovites squelching through slush Sunday morning, and meteorologists forecast rainfall for the rest of the day, compounding the capital's weather woes.

"Over the course of three hours, between 5 and 6 centimeters of snow fell in Moscow, which is atypical for the end of October," a weather forecaster from the capital's Fobos Weather Center told RIA-Novosti.

"What we are seeing now is characteristic of the snow covering in November."

The forecaster explained Sunday's heavy snowfall by a southern cyclone bringing dense rainclouds to Russia, adding that there would be no further snow Sunday due to rising temperatures.

"By the middle of the day, the air temperature will start to rise and reach between 5 and 7 degrees Celsius. The rising temperatures will continue into the evening," the meteorologist said.

Rain had already started to fall in northern Moscow by mid-morning.

By nighttime Sunday, forecasters expect the temperature to dip once more, and Muscovites trudging into work Monday morning can expect to be dealing with slippery conditions as Sunday's slush turns to ice.

"The slush formed from snow and rain will freeze, turning into black ice," the forecaster told the news agency.


Surprise October Snow Hits Central Germany

Winter appeared overnight in many parts of Germany on Saturday with unseasonal heavy snow fall and subzero temperatures hitting central and southern areas. 

Meteorologists say this is the first time for decades that snow has fallen on low lying areas in October. More flurries are expected over the weekend.

As much as 17cm of snow fell overnight in Thuringen forest in central Germany – a suspected record for this time of year. Heavy snow also fell on Bavaria, Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse and Saarland, with further flurries expected on Saturday in Leipzig, Dresden and Munich, according to the DWD.

"This happens maybe once every 30 or 40 years," meteorologist Christoph Hartmann of the German weather service (DWD) told Die Welt newspaper on Saturday, referring to the unusual snowfall in October.

The severe drop in temperature - by 20 degrees within a week - also occurs “very, very seldom,” he added.

And with winter's first onslaught came the first disruption to transport, as fallen trees blocked train lines between Leipzig and Munich, causing delays and diversions to the ICE high speed rail network.

The first taste of winter will be felt elsewhere this weekend as the cold front brings frost and subzero temperatures, which are expected to plummet to between minus one and minus six on Saturday night, excluding only coastal areas, said DWD.

A further 10-15 cm of snow is expected overnight in the Alps and in the Ore Mountains in Saxony, where DWD said temperatures could fall as low as minus ten.

Sweden Braces for Week of Heavy Snow

Sweden is bracing for a white week as meteorologists predict heavy snowfall throughout the country and have issued a nationwide class 1 warning.

"There may be large quantities of snow," explained Lisa Frost of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, SMHI, to the Aftonbladet newspaper.

"As it's the first snow and it's quite early in the season, we're issuing the warning - especially as some people haven't changed to their winter tyres yet."

A class 1 warning is the least serious on SMHI's three-level scale, and indicates "certain risks for society" which can cause "disruption to some important societal functions".

The snowfall is expected to be heavy in certain parts of central Sweden and by Monday night will likely move on towards the north.

Throughout Monday, the Dalarna and Värmland counties have been slammed by a lengthy snow storm, which has left ten centimetres of snow. SMHI forecast a further 10 centimetres before Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) is already fighting the blizzards.

“The snow that has fallen has made the roads slippery,” Fredrik Glennemo of the agency told the Expressen newspaper.

“But we have people out there plowing. So far, we haven’t had any accidents.”
Southern Sweden is set to escape the snowfall for a little while longer with temperatures hovering just above zero

The season’s lowest temperature was recorded on Sunday night with Nattavaara in far northern Sweden hitting -22.1 degrees Celsius.


France - 'Winter before it should be'

“C’est l’hiver avant l’heure;” or ‘it is winter before it should be’, was one local person’s reaction to heavy snow falls which have hit eastern parts of France.

The cold snap brought power cuts with up to 50,000 households in the Isere region in the Alps deprived of electricity.

Authorities have issued an “Orange” warning, the second highest alert, and rescue services have been fully mobilised.

Up to 50 centimetres of snow fell in some parts making driving hazardous. An icy wind and fresh falls of snow on top of the ice only added to the dangerous conditions.

Many drivers were forced to abandon their cars while emergency services were called to clear trees from roads felled in the high winds, with gusts blowing up to 130 kilometres per hour recorded in one area.

Parts of the south of France were the worst hit by the high winds where on the riviera two people have been reported missing.

A search has been mounted for a 12-year-old boy on the island of Porquerolles. Emergency services say his bike has been found. A 26-year-old windsurfer is also missing.

In the port of Marseille the ferry Napoleon Bonaparte was damaged when strong winds broke the ship’s moorings.

The hull smashed against the dock flooding two of its watertight compartments.

Hurricane Sandy - Pictures Say a Thousand Words...

Avalon Fishing Pier damage
Subway station flooding... 
Water washes into the Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn Battery tunnel, in downtown New York
As the sun comes up, Manhattan is still dark
The illuminated Empire State Building is a beacon of light in an otherwise powerless New York skyline
Residents of Manhattan's Lower East Side watch powerless as waters sweep past their cars 
Rising water, caused by Hurricane Sandy, rushes into a subterranean parking garage in the financial district of New York City.
A flooded street in Manhattan as Hurricane Sandy approached New York City on October 29.
Lower Manhattan is submerged
Atlantic City's Boardwalk wiped out.
Grocery Store near Battery Park
Broken Twisted crane on top of building in Midtown
Sandy continues to wreak havoc as the cold front merged along with the storm creeps up the eastern states.  Power outages are widespread, and more are most likely to happen due to the winter weather enveloping the Northeast States.

Sandy is not finished with us yet...