Coronavirus Leads to Fallout in Election Process


Abbie K.

Abbie K.

In addition to voting in the presidential primaries, this year U.S. citizens are voting on 435 seats in the House, 35 senate seats, 13 governorships, and multiple state and local elections. However, the spread of Covid-19 raises the question — how will a global pandemic affect our democratic process? 

There has already been voting fallout from the coronavirus as states have had to decide whether to continue in-person primary elections or to postpone voting due to concerns for safety and spread of the virus. Puerto Rico and 16 states decided to either postpone their elections into the summer or move completely to vote-by-mail. States such as Arizona, Florida, and Illinois went ahead with their elections on March 17, and Wisconsin held theirs on April 7. 

“We know that access to voting has already been impacted by this crisis. In Wisconsin the vote was forced to go forward, in person, despite the risks involved. So there is little question that partisan interests influence decision-making where voting is concerned, even when life and death are at stake,” wrote Upper School history teacher Willa Greenstone.

Greenstone is referencing a 24-hour period in Wisconsin before their election when Governor Tony Evers worked to cancel in-person voting due to public health risk, but was ultimately overruled by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The push for in-person elections was led by state Republicans. Some Democrats argued that this was a strategic move to increase the chances of certain Republican candidates. After the elections, over 15 cases of coronavirus were reported as a result. 

The problems facing Wisconsin’s elections raise questions for the rest of the election season. As of late, public health officials have recommended all states use absentee ballots. However, there is continued pushback on this suggestion from President Trump and his Republican allies. 

“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans,” President Trump tweeted on April 8. 

“It is a shame that some states are working to restrict voting by mail (ever, but especially now). It will result in effectively disenfranchising a significant number of voters,” Upper School history teacher Bill Harrison wrote in an email. 

Those opposed to expanding access to absentee ballots cite concern over increased voter-fraud. Despite this fear, there is minimal evidence that voter fraud is more likely to occur by mail than in person. With stay-at-home orders in place, it remains uncertain whether large crowds will be able to gather for in-person voting come November. Phia H.’20, the head of the Westridge Young Democrats club fears that President Trump will push to move elections. 

“My prediction is that he will try to push back the election date. That’s never going to pass, but I bet he’s going to try,” Phia said. 

Phia is correct in assuming that any type of push against November elections will be a hard and unlikely fight. The federal statute for the general elections prohibits any change in date. 

Recently senators Amy Klobachur (D-Minn.) and Ron Ryden (D-Ore.) have put forward a bill called the National Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 to increase access to absentee voting across the United States. The bill will expand earlier in-person voting as well as vote-by-mail in all 50 states. 

Not only are local and state elections experiencing changes to the voting process, but the presidential campaign and election could be altered in a number of ways as well. 

“In person campaigning has mattered a great deal in the past. I’m sure we will again see virtual versions of this that may reach the voters. This does give someone who has access to news conferences a distinct advantage though,” Greenstone wrote in an email. In-person campaigning has had to be cancelled and both National Conventions postponed and possibly cancelled. Even President Trump’s campaign will be impacted by his response to the pandemic in terms of voter perception, though whether negatively or positively is unclear. 

“I believe that [President Trump] has been taking all the necessary measures to control the spread of the virus. I also think his previous career as a businessman has truly helped him address current large and small businesses effectively regarding his new policies and his $2 trillion relief bill,” Christine B.’20 head of the Westridge Young Republicans club wrote. 

“We have certainly faced similar situations in U.S. history. There is the obvious comparison to the Spanish Flu of 1918. It too led to an economic downturn [. . . .]It is common for economic downturns to lead to shifts in voting patterns,” Greenstone wrote. 

Many politically active students at Westridge are monitoring news reports to see how they will vote in their first election. Phia and Christine have planned a joint virtual meeting between their clubs to chat about various policies, the upcoming election, and the current political climate. Both groups are working hard to stay engaged in politics despite the quarantine, but as Christine said, “The future is difficult to foretell as policies and systems are constantly changing.”

Sources and Further Reading: 

Wisconsin Voters go to the polls in controversial election – The Guardian

Trump’s home county and other Democratic strongholds ramp up vote-by-mail – NBC News

Could the 2020 election be postponed? Only with great difficulty. Here’s why. – The New York Times

Why Republicans Are So Afraid of Vote-by-Mail – The New York Times

Summary of the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 – U.S. Vote Foundation

16 States Have Postponed Their Primaries Because of Coronavirus. Here’s a List. – The New York Times

Democrats introduce bill to promote mail-in voting amid coronavirus crisis – The Hill

How will coronavirus affect 2020 elections? Let me count the ways – Roll Call

Trump campaign declares war on Dems over voting rules for November – Politico

‘The map is bigger now’: Coronavirus rewires 2020 election – Politico