As the coronavirus pandemic hampers much of the US economy, it also wreaks havoc on the US democratic process during a year of national elections.
Major contests were delayed or disrupted, in-person polling stations were closed and the postal voting process was questioned. Politicians have engaged in controversial disputes over the electoral process in legislatures and courts.
In November, voters are expected to go to the polls to select the next president, a large part of Congress and thousands of candidates for state government. But what election day might look like – or if it will even be on schedule – is debated.
Here are the answers to some key questions.
Could President Trump postpone the elections?
A total of 15 states have delayed their presidential primaries to this stage, with most delaying them until at least June. This poses the urgent question of whether the November presidential election itself could be delayed.
Under a law dating from 1845, the US presidential election is scheduled for Tuesday after the first Monday in November every four years – November 3 in 2020. An act of Congress required – approved by majorities of the House of MPs controlled by Democrats. Representatives and the Senate under Republican control – to change that.
The prospect of a bipartisan legislative consensus approving any delay is extremely unlikely.
In addition, even if polling day were changed, the US Constitution requires that a presidential administration only last four years. In other words, Donald Trump’s first term will expire at noon on January 20, 2021, in one way or another.
He could get another four years if he is re-elected. He could be replaced by Democrat Joe Biden if he is defeated. But time is running out and a postponed vote will not stop it.
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What happens if the election is delayed?
If there was no election before the scheduled inauguration day, the presidential succession comes into play. The second is Vice President Mike Pence, and since his term also ends on this day- there he is in the same boat as The President.
Next is the Speaker of the House – currently Democrat Nancy Pelosi – but her two-year term will end in late December. The highest official eligible for the presidency in such a doomsday scenario would be the 86-year-old Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, pro-Senate speaker. This assumes that Republicans still control the Senate after a third of its 100 seats are vacant due to the expiration of their own terms.
All in all, it is much more in the area of political thrillers than in political reality.
But could the virus disrupt the election?
Although an outright change in the date of the presidential election is unlikely, that does not mean that the process is not likely to be significantly disrupted.
According to Professor Richard L Hasen of the University of California at Irvine, an electoral law expert, Trump or state governments could use their emergency powers to severely restrict in-person voting locations.
In the recently concluded Wisconsin Primary, for example, concerns about exposure to the virus, as well as a shortage of volunteers and election supplies, led to the closure of 175 of the 180 polling stations in Milwaukee, the largest state city.
If such a decision was made with political interests in mind – perhaps targeting an opponent’s electoral strongholds – it could have an impact on the results of an election.
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Could states challenge the results?
Hasen also suggests another more extraordinary, though unlikely, scenario. Legislatures, citing concerns about the virus, could regain power to determine which candidate wins their state in general elections. There is no constitutional obligation for a state to support the presidential candidate who wins a plurality of votes – or for the state to hold a vote for the president.
This is the Electoral College, this archaic American institution in which each state has “voters” who travel to Washington, DC, to vote for the president. These voters normally (almost always) support those who win the popular vote in their respective states.
However, it doesn’t have to work that way. In the 1800s elections, for example, several state legislatures told their voters how to vote, people will be damned.
If a state were to make such a “hard ball” today, Hasen admits, it would likely lead to mass protests in the streets. In other words, if mass demonstrations are authorized taking into account quarantines and social edicts.
Will there be legal challenges?
Recent Wisconsin Elementary Experience Could Be Worrisome Warning For Upcoming Election Disruption – Not Just Due To Long Lines For Voting In Person At Limited Polling Stations With Volunteers And Soldiers of the National Guard in protective clothing.
Before day one, Democratic Governor Tony Evers and the Republicans who control the state legislature fought high-stakes legal battles, one of which was ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court, to find out if the governor had the legal power to postpone the vote until June or extend the voting deadline for absentees.
In March, Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine had a similar court battle before successfully delaying his state’s primary.
A Texas federal judge made an order on Wednesday making fear of the coronavirus a valid reason for requesting a postal vote in November. State requirements for postal voting were among the strictest in the country.
What changes could reduce the risk?
In a recent opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 66% of Americans said they would not be comfortable going to a polling station to vote during the current public health crisis.
These concerns have increased pressure on states to expand the availability of postal ballots to all voters in order to minimize the risk of viral exposure from voting in person.
While each state provides for some form of remote voting, the requirements for qualifying vary considerably.
“We have a very decentralized system,” says Hasen. “States have a lot of flexibility in how they do these things. “
Five states in the western United States, including Washington, Oregon and Colorado, conduct their elections entirely by postal ballot. Others, like California, provide a postal ballot to anyone who requests it.
Why don’t some states like postal voting?
At the other end of the spectrum, 17 states require voters to provide a valid reason why they are unable to vote in person to qualify for a postal vote. These states have been called upon to relax their requirements to make it easier to get postal ballots – although some leaders are resisting.
Missouri Republican Governor Mike Parson said on Tuesday that expanding access to absentee ballots was a “political problem” and suggested that fear of contracting the virus is not, in itself, a reason to qualify for a postal vote.
Republicans in other states, including North Carolina and Georgia, have expressed similar sentiments.
Congress could step in and demand that states provide a minimum level of postal voting or postal voting in national elections, but given the existing partisan stalemate at the US Capitol, the chances are slim.
Do the parties agree on how to protect the elections?
No. Given the intense polarization of modern politics, it should not be surprising that the question of whether – and how – to change the way elections are conducted during a pandemic has become an increasingly controversial debate.
Donald Trump himself has weighed in on the expansion of postal voting, saying he is more vulnerable to fraud. He also suggested that increased participation in easing the voting restrictions could hurt Republican candidates,
“They had voting rates, that if you ever agreed, you would never have an elected Republican in this country again,” he said in a recent interview with Fox News.
But the evidence that the Conservatives are more affected by postal voting is mixed, as Republicans frequently vote in greater numbers than Democrats.
Is American democracy in danger?
The coronavirus epidemic affects all aspects of American life. While Trump and other politicians are pushing for life to return to a semblance of normalcy, there is no guarantee that all will be well in June, when many states postponed their primary votes, the party conventions of August, the presidential debates scheduled for October or even the November elections. day.
Normally, the coming months would mark a beating of national political interest and an activity that would escalate on election day. At this point, everything is in doubt – including, for some, the foundations of American democracy itself.
“Before the virus even struck, I was very worried that people would accept the 2020 election results because we are very hyper polarized and clogged with disinformation,” says Hasen, who has written a book. recent title Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Menace for American Democracy.
“The virus adds much more to this concern. “