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The Virginia Primary Day Earthquake, Contingency Planning ... and Andujar's Law

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[Image courtesy of johnstrubel.com]

Yesterday's East Coast earthquake - centered near Mineral, VA but felt up and down the Atlantic seaboard and as far west as Chicago - was and will be a big story for several days (and a source of endless eye-rolling from the West Coast).

It's worth noticing, however, that the earthquake didn't appear to stop Virginia from conducting a primary election in communities across the Commonwealth. There were scattered reports of brief evacuations and voting in parking lots, but generally people soldiered on. [The Virginia State Board of Elections' Twitter feed has a nice chronology of events.]

In the aftermath, there will be lots of discussion about what lessons to draw from Tuesday's events. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission's blog came out quickly with a post detailing numerous contingency planning resources that election offices should consult to be prepared for emergency situations that inevitably arise. Resources like these are crucial to the field and should be required reading for anyone responsible for the smooth operation of voting on Election Day.

To be honest, though, I'm guessing you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of a seismic research lab who would have ever predicted that a Virginia election would be affected by an earthquake - especially with Hurricane Irene supposedly preparing to storm ashore.

It reminds me more of one of my favorite quotes - by former MLB pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who once said:

There is one word in America that says it all, and that word is, 'You never know.'

In other words, contingency planning is a vital piece of any enterprise, but as Tuesday's earthquake showed us, you simply can't anticipate all contingencies, let alone plan for them. All you can do is stay focused on the mission and (with a tip of the cap of the Marine Corps) "improvise, adapt and overcome" to ensure that ballots are cast and counted properly.

In advance of Election Day, election offices can and should check and double-check, train and plan for anything and everything they can anticipate.

But on Election Day, everyone involved needs to remember and respect Andujar's Law:

You never know.

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