[Image courtesy of brittanica]
We know nothing of what will happen in the future, but in the analogy of experience. – Abraham Lincoln, 1839
This week, several of the states hammered by Hurricane Sandy turned to a source of hard-won guidance: Louisiana, who had had to conduct the entire 2006 election cycle in disaster conditions after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other parts of the state. This week, those experiences were invaluable to the Sandy states, who sought Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s advice on how to cope with the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Here’s the story from the Advertiser:
Louisiana officials have taken time from preparing for the Nov. 6 election to help states walloped by Hurricane Sandy, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said.
In a conference call Friday, Schedler explained to voting officials from New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware and Massachusetts how to run an election in the wake of a storm.
Schedler’s office had extensive experience in the aftermath of hurricanes like Katrina. He said he spoke to them on what to do before the storm and after the storm. He explained the importance of securing equipment and having cellphone numbers on file. He also said that after the storm, it is important to make contact with workers, determine the precincts still viable and move unusable polling places.
Schedler calls Louisiana voting officials “experts on hurricanes.” He said they are constantly moving voting machines in low-lying parishes to higher ground.
He also encouraged officials to have a good relationship with the National Guard, which, in his case, was “an integral part of making that election successful.”
Schedler told officials to expect bigger crowds and longer lines. He also emphasized the need for ample parking, water, restroom facilities and signs.
Paper ballots are also an option that can be used if the needs of a digital voting system can’t be met.
He told officials to encourage early voting and “put that on steroids.” His overall message: Preparation is key.
“As long as you have a plan and you implement it, you’ll be fine,” Schedler said.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to pull off. Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret called conducting an election after a storm a logistical nightmare.
Perret said that 800 people are working the polls in Lafayette parish.
“Imagine trying to track down 800 people,” he said when describing the chaos after a storm.
Perret said that people who weather a storm need to be patient with poll workers, who were probably affected by the storm as well.
In this specific case, advice is about all Louisiana voting officials can offer the states affected by Sandy.
“We would love to take time out and go help these people, but we have to make sure our election is properly handled,” Perret said.
The “analogy of experience,” then appears to be this:
- be able to reach people – especially poll workers (using cell phones, which unlike other utilities seem to have weathered Sandy quite well);
- be prepared to physically relocate polling locations, and have a list of prospective sites should the need arise;
- to the extent possible, keep machines and other assets safe and dry;
- find a way to “bank” votes before the disaster through early voting;
- don’t be afraid to improvise – and counsel patience for voters and election workers alike.
No one would ever say that the Hurricane Katrina disaster was a good thing, but it is undeniably a good thing that Louisiana is sharing its experience with the Sandy states. I hope that those states will be prepared to share their own stories – and I really hope those stories (when combined with Louisiana’s) are enough to convince policymakers and election officials across the nation to use the “analogy of experience” and make plans to cope with natural or other disasters before it’s time to pick up the pieces.