The coronavirus is taking an extraordinary toll on American life. According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders have already cost the economy millions of jobs. They expect that more than 2 million people will file for unemployment within the next week – a prediction that, if true, would be the highest number in this country’s history. The stock market is deteriorating rapidly, entire industries are looking to Washington for a bailout, schools are shutting down indefinitely, and there is little cause for optimism on the immediate horizon.
That’s not all. We are, of course, in the middle of an election year, and the primaries were in full swing when this bastard of a disease hit our shores. Now, it seems that the coronavirus will claim another victim: The smooth operation of democracy itself. At least 13 states have already delayed the primaries, and it seems likely that more will follow.
With the Democratic nomination still up for grabs – theoretically, at least – what kind of effect will these postponements have on the 2020 election in November?
“Primaries scheduled for Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Indiana, Louisiana, Connecticut and Kentucky have all been postponed to May or June. The Rhode Island Board of Elections has recommended the primary be delayed to June, while officials in Wisconsin are debating what to do,” reports the AP. “All this comes at the worst possible time for election officials, in the middle of a major election year. The virus outbreak erupted halfway through the presidential primary season. Voters in 23 states have yet to cast their ballots.”
One of the big problems is that poll workers are almost uniformly volunteers over the retirement age. You know, the very people who are most vulnerable to this outbreak (although recent disturbing statistics suggest that the “it only affects the elderly” news was premature and overstated). How can you hold elections when you have no one to run the polling sites? How can you simultaneously encourage people to stay home and tell them to come out and vote? It’s a mixed message, at best.
So what’s the alternative? Many officials are pushing for America to start focusing on mail-in ballots, perhaps even with an eye on turning November’s election into a 100% mail-in vote. But that’s easier said than done, to put it mildly. How does that affect turnout? Hell, there are even whispers about the U.S. mail service shutting down. Even if that’s an unrealistic concern, many states would have to jump through logistical, constitutional, and legislative hoops to make mail-in voting the standard. Many of them don’t have it at all right now.
It’s a tricky, unprecedented situation, to say the least.