During the Democratic debate on Sunday, Americans witnessed a rare sighting: Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden disputing potential solutions to the new coronavirus before an audience-free studio. This eerily quiet debate was fitting considering the current global pandemic that the world is facing. Even presidential candidates had to adhere to the new practices of social distancing, standing six feet apart, and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.
When prompted with a question about how Sanders and Biden were protecting themselves against COVID-19, both candidates said that they had eliminated hand-shaking (even beginning the debate with a forearm bump), had hosted virtual rallies for supporters, and reported that campaign staffs were working remotely until the infection spread stabilized.
The harsh reality of this COVID-19 pandemic is that national routines have been disrupted, and one of the most unprecedented points of uncertainty is how the primary elections will proceed.
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would be postponing oral arguments as a preventative measure against the coronavirus outbreak. This has not happened since 1918 following the emergence of the Spanish flu over 100 years ago. NPR reported that yesterday morning the state of Ohio postponed its primary elections to June 2, just hours before polls were set to open. With direct instructions from the CDC and President Trump to avoid large gatherings, crowded polling stations pose a potential threat not only to voters, but to those who work the polling stations. “Typically, a large number of poll workers are retired folks who volunteer. That is the demographic that is at the greatest risk if they get sick. Some are also cancelling their volunteer polling shifts, creating potential upheaval and delays,” Vicki Bier, a risk analysis expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Her Campus. Ohio now joins three other states that have pushed back their primary election date, possibly skewing number projections for candidates who are hoping to take home big wins over the course of the next few weeks.
Alternative methods to in-person polls, like voting by absentee ballot, could be a key component for Americans in the coming weeks. “I expect that the parties will make a strong push for greater absentee ballots. We will probably see states revisit voting laws such as early voting, absentee voting, and maybe even online voting,” said Ryan Owens, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ahead of the Wisconsin primary on April 7, voters have actually been urged to vote by absentee ballot as a precaution.
While Arizona, Florida and Illinois are still voting today, going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice voters make. If you do go to the polls, please see CDC guidance on keeping yourself safe: https://t.co/dS8dW76GwH
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 17, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is being heavily monitored by the presidential administration in order to get ahead of the virus.
Trump’s projections conclude that there is no concrete timeline for when the virus will reach a standstill, but he stated in a press conference that it could be July or August. This is much longer than the eight weeks that were originally proposed by the CDC. “People need to realize that every time they come to any group meeting that each person is bringing with them the germs of all the people they’ve been in contact with for the previous two weeks. That is why we need to practice social distancing,” says Dr. Devra Davis, epidemiologist and president of EHTrust.org.
So far, the primary schedule is still set continue as normal with exceptions to states like Louisiana and Georgia that have postponed to May and June. Events like the Democratic National Convention, the Republic National Convention, and election day are still underway. Although it may be hard to focus on politics while facing a crisis, now is the time for voters to be proactive about casting votes, whether that be by absentee or mail-in ballot.