At the time of this reporting, Hurricane Matthew is snaking northeast across the southeast United States, assaulting multiple states with devastating winds and substantial flooding. Governors of Florida, Georgia, and both of the Carolinas have declared states of emergency. More than a million citizens have suffered power outages due to the storm, and of the thousands who evacuated their coastal homes seeking safety, many are gathered together at storm shelters, waiting to return home to assess the damages and begin the long work of rebuilding
As disasters go, it will take time to account for all the costs and consequences. With only a month remaining before the presidential election, many are asking what effect the storm may have, if any, on the outcome.
Sandy set a precedent
When Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey a few short weeks before the 2012 election, leading to speculation over the storm’s effect on the election, an unusual precedent was set to politicize a hurricane that strikes near Election Day.
In the case of Hurricane Sandy, some believed the storm helped President Obama secure a second term by boosting his approval rating as he reacted in the midst of a disaster, working in a bipartisan manner alongside Gov. Chris Christie to offer relief to the citizens of New Jersey. Conversely, Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, had suggested in the past that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, be eliminated in favor of private, profit-making companies. Since FEMA played a key role in Sandy relief efforts, Romney’s past comments reflected poorly on the candidate in the eyes of many voters.
Hurricane Matthew and voter registration
The current, major concern with Hurricane Matthew, as it pertains to the election, is with voter registration. In the swing state of Florida, the deadline for voter registration is October 11th, and with thousands of displaced citizens, voter registration in these final days is likely to be down compared to past elections.
Some are calling for Gov. Rick Scott to extend the deadline, but the Republican – who currently serves as national chairman of a pro-Trump Super PAC – believes it’s unnecessary.
I’m not going to extend it. Everybody has had a lot of time to register. - Florida Governor Rick Scott
In 2012, more than 50,000 voters registered in the final week before the deadline. Of those who registered in that period, 43% were registered Democrat, 18% Republican, 37% no party, and 2% other.
Many Democrats have cried foul, criticizing the governor of playing party politics. Speculation has been made that Clinton’s lawyers will challenge Gov. Scott’s decision.
Voters awaiting candidates reactions
Additionally, undecided voters across the nation are monitoring the candidates’ actions in these final weeks to determine who they view as better fit to lead the nation. Although neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, unlike Obama in 2012 in regards to Sandy, has any substantial sway over the relief efforts in response to Matthew, their reactions to this disaster, while largely symbolic, could persuade, or dissuade, voters who remain on the fence.
It has yet to be seen the exact kind and amount of time, attention, and lip service the candidates will pay to the ongoing situation.
Recovering in time for the election
Finally, as the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew remains uncertain, it isn’t yet clear how greatly the storm will disrupt the systems and operations of early voting and Election Day. Hurricane Sandy led to a decrease in the number of polling stations in New Jersey in 2012. Similar circumstances now in 2016 could mean many voters don’t make it to the ballot box come Nov. 8th.