Much has been said and much more will be said of the global pandemic that has sprung up on the planet in the last few weeks. However, an underrated aspect in the coverage has been its impact on our impending presidential election. The 2020 contest, which, even before this outbreak, was shaping up to be a historic affair, now looks to be an election out of a fantasy tale. With restaurants, concerts, public events of all stripes, schools, universities and almost every other conceivable aspect of civil society closed possibly for months, the selection of the next president will be paramount. We face the possibility of not only a protracted Democratic primary buoyed by postponed contests, but also a severe restriction on campaigning and cancelation of the general election itself. Moreover, the doomsday scenarios emanating from the pandemic range from a sick candidate to a historically low turnout that could render the election illegitimate in the eyes of many.
While these situations are by far at the edge of the spectrum of possibility, they are nonetheless worthy of consideration following the most tumultuous month in American life over the past several years. With Joe Biden’s 11th hour resurrection combined with the possibility of a severe recession on top of the viral epidemic itself, the United States seems to be in the running for an election like no other.
We actually received a preview of this unprecedented election season yesterday in Ohio, where the factors that could impact the 2020 election derailed a primary. Citing concern over the pandemic, Gov. Mike Dewine suspended his state’s primary just hours before the polls were set to open. When a judge overturned his decision, he used emergency powers to keep voters out. While in this instance the primary was simply postponed and little harm done, it was a glimpse of what the future pertains in terms of elections in this country. In addition to Ohio, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp took similar actions days ago in suspending his state’s primary, and other governors look set to follow in the coming weeks.
Cases can be made in both directions regarding postponement of elections, with critics claiming that this country underwent elections during much more severe crises such as World War II and the Civil War. Proponents, like the formerly mentioned governors, cite an abounding concern that a mass congregation of citizens for a prolonged period of time at polling places is a detrimental assault on public health.
While this battle will be ongoing during the primaries, the debate will remain only a matter of public opinion for the general election, with no power invested in the President to postpone federal elections. In fact, the constitution specifically prescribes a uniform day and method of federal elections. It seems as though come hell or high water, Americans will choose a president in November.
However, that doesn’t mean that the election season itself couldn’t be wild and unprecedented in unimaginable ways. For example, we could see the parties’ national convention conducted entirely online and campaigning limited to Facebook ads and viral videos. Not out of the realm of possibility is an election without a debate between contenders or visionary speeches on matters of public policy.
What happens remains to be seen, but it is possible that coronavirus will incur the most fantastical presidential election in U.S history.