Even as much of the East Coast was boarding up and evacuating low-lying areas in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, pundits were already talking about what kind of impact this storm might have on the election. Given that the storm is hitting a week in advance of Election Day, I'm hoping not much, though depending on its severity and how long it lingers, flooding, downed trees, icy roads, and power outages could persist.
But imagine if the storm had arrived a week later.
A direct Election Day hit on heavily Democratic Philadelphia could depress voting there enough to swing Pennsylvania and the entire election to Romney. Or should a storm zero in on southern Virginia, it could depress rural voting there, swinging that key state to Obama. An entire presidential election could hinge on a storm track.
But a similar storm bearing down on the Pacific Northwest? Meh. With both Washington and Oregon voting entirely by mail, voters here would have plenty of opportunity to drop their ballots in the mail well in advance of the bad weather.
Personally, I miss the polling place and the sense of civic unity it engendered. I loved hanging out, chatting with the poll workers and my neighbors, and getting a first hand feel for the level of Election Day excitement. In fact, I hated the notion of voting by mail so much, that for my first few elections after King County converted, I drove down to the elections headquarters and voted in person.
But vote-by-mail and other systems that encourage early voting make it so much harder to suppress turnout, be it intentionally or through an act of nature, it is worth the tradeoffs. No long lines, no broken voting machines, no cynical voter ID laws. No bad weather. For these and other reasons (like, say, a guaranteed paper trail) vote-by-mail is clearly a superior option to the way most of the other states conduct their elections.