Should state primary votes be postponed in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic and low voter turnout?
- A primary election determines the candidates for political parties ahead of a general election through the use of plurality systems, majority systems, and top-two systems.
- In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden won with 306 electoral votes and 81.2 million nationally, while Donald Trump received 232 electoral and 74.2 million popular votes.
- Pew Research reported that in November 2016, 157.6 million Americans aged 18 and up were registered to vote, but only 136.8 million voted in the election. The Census Bureau found “record turnout” in the 2020 election with 154.6 million voters.
- On January 10, 2020, WHO announced the outbreak in Wuhan, China was caused by the Novel Coronavirus. By March 11, 2020, after over 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 deaths, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
At the time of the statewide primary voting season happening across the US in the spring of 2020, active COVID-19 cases and death rates rose rapidly. These numbers should have been a clear indication to states to postpone their primaries in light of the developing pandemic. One of the fundamental facets of democracy is electoral freedom, which means elections remain free and fair (including accessible) for every American. But at the beginning of COVID and later that same 2020 election year, achieving the goal of having safe and accessible voting places for everyone was seemingly inconceivable. COVID is highly risky for the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and perhaps some otherwise healthy people who have recently contracted the virus. Calling these individuals out to vote would endanger not only their health but also the health of their families and caretakers.
It is unfair for any state to postulate that voters must put the sanctity of the electoral process above their health. The CDC had advised a nationwide quarantine and social isolation measures to control the spread of this virus. Holding any event that will draw a crowd is tantamount to painting a moving target on every attendee. Ohio had taken the lead in doing the sensible thing, as Governor Mike DeWine stated that these primaries results would be marred by extremely low voter turnout as well as balloting under the influence of a fearful environment. Requiring election processes to continue during unprecedented pandemics also places poll workers at an unacceptable risk. Not only will these elections not be productive and fair in its overall process, but they also will not reflect the wishes of the entire electorate either who were unable to make it out. States should be better prepared with the next election should a widespread health crisis ever happen again.
Though President Trump indicated the virus could last until July or August of 2020, many health experts predict it’ll be much longer. If COVID-19 were to last longer than August, state primary elections would not just be postponed, they could very well be canceled. The 2020 presidential election is scheduled to take place on November 3, which leaves little wiggle room to postpone a state primary election.
Additionally, the right to vote is arguably the most important right given to American citizens under the Constitution. In Ohio, a judge rejected Governor Mike DeWine’s lawsuit to postpone the state’s primary election because he believed it would set a “terrible precedent” of the government infringing on the citizens’ right to vote. The election was canceled anyway. It is important to ensure the health and safety of all people during COVID and any future pandemics, but there are ways to do that without canceling elections.
The CDC had recommended there be no gatherings of more than 50 people, so continuing to conduct the election did not allow citizens to abide by this health guidance. The most popular idea has been to vote by mail via an all-mail election; rather than people gathering to vote in person, voters would be required to cast their ballot by mail. Other ideas include expanding the voting period to more than one day to allow people to come sporadically to avoid large crowds. Practicing social distancing and following the suggestions of the CDC was of paramount importance during the height of COVID, and we know future adherence can be done without postponing the crucial state primary elections.