Why Hur­ri­cane Sandy might cost Obama the pop­u­lar vote

“And this year, the im­pact of Hur­ri­cane Sandy makes it more likely that we'll see a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion where the win­ner winds up win­ning fewer votes than the loser.”

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Jeff Creen­field

THIS year's black swan ar­rived on a rush of wind. Once again, a highly un­likely, unan­tic­i­pated event has roiled the wa­ters-lit­er­ally-late in the cam­paign cy­cle. Twelve years ago, it was the reve­la­tion of Ge­orge W. Bush's long-ago drunk driv­ing ar­rest that likely cost him the pop­u­lar vote and al­most cost him the White House. Four years ago, the Septem­ber col­lapse of Lehman Broth­ers and the near-col­lapse of the global fi­nan­cial uni­verse turned a likely Obama vic­tory into a cer­tain one.

And this year, the im­pact of Hur­ri­cane Sandy makes it more likely that we'll see a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion where the win­ner winds up win­ning fewer votes than the loser. Even be­fore Sandy struck the East Coast Mon­day, an ob­ser­va­tion was gain­ing hur­ri­cane force: What if Sandy had struck a week later? What if, on Elec­tion Day, tens of mil­lions were with­out power, with mass tran­sit shut, roads flooded, polling sta­tions shut or in­ac­ces­si­ble? Would states or the fed­eral gov­ern­ment post­pone the vot­ing?

Well, we don't have to turn to "whatif" ques­tions (much as I en­joy them). The storm will likely have a mea­sur­able im­pact on next Tues­day's vot­ing.

In the past, we've seen less pow­er­ful storms knock out power for well over a week. Flood­ing has al­ready taken place on a mas­sive scale, mean­ing that prop­erty own­ers across the East, and hun­dreds of miles in­land, will be cop­ing with wa­ter in their cel­lars, liv­ing rooms, stores and of­fices. There are schools that may still be closed. This means there's a very good chance that vot­ers-maybe hun­dreds of thou­sands of them-will be cop­ing with ur­gent, per­sonal af­fairs, and the trip to the polls may sim­ply be one burden too many.

Now con­sider where these vot­ers are: over­whelm­ingly, they're in states where Obama is all but cer­tain to win, and with huge plu­ral­i­ties.

(The lat­est poll out of New York gives the Pres­i­dent a 61-35 ad­van­tage over Mitt Rom­ney, which trans­lates to a 2-mil­lion­vote plu­ral­ity.)

This enor­mous lead, com­bined with the post-storm bur­dens, sug­gests that there's markedly less in­cen­tive than usual for Obama vot­ers in deep-blue states to vote.

The likely re­sult? An in­creased chance that Obama will lose the na­tional pop­u­lar vote to Rom­ney, and thus an in­creased chance that we'll see, as we did in 2000, a split be­tween the pop­u­lar vote and the Elec­toral Col­lege tally that in fact de­cides the pres­i­dency.

Should Obama win the elec­tion this way, it would be his­toric: We've never had an in­cum­bent pres­i­dent re­turned to of­fice while los­ing the pop­u­lar vote. (Ger­ald Ford came close; de­spite los­ing the pop­u­lar vote by 1.7 mil­lion votes, a shift of barely 11,000 votes in Ohio and Hawaii would have kept him in the White House).

More sig­nif­i­cant, it would rekin­dle the ar­gu­ment over the Elec­toral Col­lege that arose-briefly-in 2000: Is this 200-year old mech­a­nism, with an overtly anti-demo­cratic tilt (small states have dis­pro­por­tion­ately more clout than big states), the right way to choose a pres­i­dent?

Af­ter im­mers­ing my­self in the mys­ter­ies of the Elec­toral Col­lege for a novel I wrote in the '90s, I came away be­liev­ing that the case for scrap­ping it is less ob­vi­ous than I orig­i­nally thought.

For one thing, los­ing the pop­u­lar vote is not nec­es­sar­ily a sign of what "the peo­ple" re­ally wanted.

Can­di­dates struc­ture their cam­paigns around the Elec­toral Col­lege; had 2000 been a pop­u­lar vote elec­tion, Ge­orge W. Bush would have spent more time run­ning up the vote in Texas and Cal­i­for­nia's in­land em­pire, while Al Gore would have been cam­paign­ing in Dal­las and At­lanta.

For an­other, the chaos that en­veloped Florida back in 2000 might ex­tend to ev­ery state if the pop­u­lar vote was as close as it was in 1960, 1968, and 2000 (and as it may well be this time). In­stead of lawyers and op­er­a­tives de­scend­ing on Florida, they might be loaded onto C-130s and parachuted into ev­ery state where dis­putes arose.

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