OPINION: The Repercussions Of Global Pandemic During A Major Election Year
In a world without a global pandemic, U.S. presidential candidates usually spend the entire summer holding large rallies in order to build enthusiasm and momentum for their campaign leading into the fall. But now, the candidates are in a tough spot: they need to keep Americans safe from COVID but they also need to be able to rally voters. The pandemic has largely impacted both candidates' summer plans.
With hopes of returning to the White House (but this time as Commander in Chief), the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has moved the majority of his campaigning online. It's even interesting to note that now, as part of his platform, Biden has a whole section of his website dedicated to how he would have (as POTUS) dealt with the pandemic. So not only has the pandemic affected his campaign trail, but it now is part of his platform. Biden is hoping to be able to distinguish himself from President Trump when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, and attract the voters who are unhappy with the President's handling of the situation.
The pandemic has also affected the incumbent, President Trump, seeing as he is directly fighting the expansion of mail in ballots. Additionally, the Republican National Convention that was originally schedule to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, has now been moved to Jacksonville, Florida. The move is a huge loss for the state of North Carolina:
“Since securing this event 2 years ago, thousands of businesses have been working tirelessly to help Republicans have one of their best national conventions in Charlotte. It is sad to see all of that hard work going to waste, but our industry is resilient, we will survive.”
The convention, now in Florida, will be a much smaller version of the normal gathering due to the pandemic and social distancing.
Outside of the candidates themselves, the pandemic is directly impacting voter registration and how voting is occurring. In terms of voter registration:
In Florida, one likely battleground state in November, there were 77,000 new registrations in January; that number fell to 21,000 in April. Another battleground state, North Carolina, plunged from 112,000 new voters in January to just 35,000 in April. Monthly registrations fell by two-thirds in Arizona and by three-quarters in California.
This dramatic drop in voter registration is shocking news considering everyone (the candidates included) expected this election to draw the most voters — especially first time and young voters. That said, there is still hope for this election to lead to a crazy turn out with the help of online voter registration sources like: Vote.org and Rockthevote.org.
According to an article from the New York Times:
About 200,000 people began online registrations at the Vote.org website in the first week of June, and 107,000 more began sign-ups at Rock the Vote, whose platform is used by a range of civic groups. Both numbers are unusually high given that there were few or no deadlines for voter registration during the week, the factor that usually causes online sign-ups to increase.
These numbers are hopeful, yes — but it will be interesting to see how many people actually vote come November.
Turn out in presidential elections goes in waves already, outside of a global pandemic, so the candidates are in for a wild ride come November. In 2016, nearly 56% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the presidential election. Which represented a slight uptick compared with 2012, but overall was less than in the record year of 2008 when President Obama won his first term. However, with the pandemic still being an issue (and expected to still be an issue leading into the fall), people are scared to leave their homes and don't want to risk contracting the virus from a voting booth. Completely understandable, but then this opens up the issue of mail in ballots.
Mail in ballots are by no means a new method of voting. That said, the method is receiving fresh attention as the pandemic continues to be an issue. Mail in ballots have recently become extremely politically charged, as the fight to have mail in ballots be a nationwide expansion is at issue.
So what does it mean to "vote by mail?" Simply put, the phrase is meant to offer "more flexibility to voters" who either want or might be in need of casting a ballot in a location other than a polling place. Here's where some of the states stand on the issue:
As of now, all states allow a portion of their voting population to vote by mail.
Some states allow all registered voters to receive a mail ballot (also known as an absentee ballot), and some states require an excuse or reason.
In terms of mail in votes and the 2020 election and pandemic:
Forty-six states now offer access to some form of mail voting to all voters (24 of the states have Democratic governors, and 22 have Republican governors).
The our states that have not expanded mail-voting access are led by Republican governors (TX, MO, MS, TN).
While election experts say fraud in mail balloting is slightly more common than in in-person voting, it's still such a minuscule amount it's not statistically meaningful. However, the Right is very against this being a nationwide method for the upcoming election.
Presidential elections are always an interesting time in the country, but the 2020 presidential election will go down in history. A heated presidential election in a global pandemic? Sounds pretty historical to me outside of the new methods of voting, questionable voter turn out, online campaigning, conventions moved, voter registration issues, and so on.
Needless to say, whichever party comes out on top will remember this election (and lack of true grassroots campaigning in the final months) for the rest of their lives. Let's all hope from this moment on 2024 doesn't give us another pandemic during a presidential election.
Meredith E. Milton is an Opinion Contributor for The National Times.